How sleep affects the developmental learning of bird song

Nature. 2005 Feb 17;433(7027):710-6. doi: 10.1038/nature03275.


Sleep affects learning and development in humans and other animals, but the role of sleep in developmental learning has never been examined. Here we show the effects of night-sleep on song development in the zebra finch by recording and analysing the entire song ontogeny. During periods of rapid learning we observed a pronounced deterioration in song structure after night-sleep. The song regained structure after intense morning singing. Daily improvement in similarity to the tutored song occurred during the late phase of this morning recovery; little further improvement occurred thereafter. Furthermore, birds that showed stronger post-sleep deterioration during development achieved a better final imitation. The effect diminished with age. Our experiments showed that these oscillations were not a result of sleep inertia or lack of practice, indicating the possible involvement of an active process, perhaps neural song-replay during sleep. We suggest that these oscillations correspond to competing demands of plasticity and consolidation during learning, creating repeated opportunities to reshape previously learned motor skills.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Darkness
  • Deafness / physiopathology
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Learning / radiation effects
  • Male
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep / radiation effects
  • Sound
  • Sunlight
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*