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.