Most of us assume that when our little bundles twitch in their sleep that they’re dreaming – how adorable! But new research reveals that babies are probably doing a bit more than just play-acting in lalaland…
According to a team of University of Iowa researchers, all those puppy-like sudden jerks during slumber could be a sign that baby is honing his motor skills. The scientific standpoint is that this type of movement – which occurs in the rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep stage – is a result of the brain firing off important information throughout the body. It’s this process that researchers believe helps young ones learn how to use their bodies when awake.
Looking specifically at the link between twitching and the development of motor skills in infants aged two weeks to 18 months, the Iowa study has discovered some fascinating relationships: For example, there appears to be a connection between neck twitches during sleep and an infant’s ability to hold up his or her head in the waking hours. Twitches in the fingers and wrists appear to be tied to a baby’s ability to start reaching for things.
“We are beginning to see intriguing relationships between twitching and the skills that babies are developing,” says Mark Blumberg, the university’s professor of psychological and brain sciences.
“Once the infants are able to support their head while they are awake, the proportion of neck twitches to other types of twitches goes down,” research scientist Greta Sokoloff added. “We are looking for relationships like these where we can potentially use twitches to predict the onset of new motor skills and perhaps, in time, detect developmental problems.”
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that these barely perceptible ‘developmental’ movements in repose are not restricted to babies; adults twitch as well— because even though you’ve probably got the basics of perambulation down by this point, your sensorimotor system can still process changes.
“We gain weight, we lose weight, we do strength training, and learn new skills,” Blumberg said. “All of these things require re-calibration of our sensorimotor system.”