Novel word learning in older adults: A role for sleep?

Brain Lang. 2017 Apr;167:106-113. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2016.05.010. Epub 2016 Jun 9.


Sleep is an offline period during which newly acquired semantic information is transformed into longer-lasting memories. Language acquisition, which requires new word learning and semantic integration, is preferentially benefitted by a period of sleep in children and young adults. Specific features of sleep (e.g., sleep stage characteristics) have been associated with enhanced language acquisition and generalization. However, with increasing age, even in healthy individuals, sleep quality and quantity decrease. Simultaneously, deficits in word retrieval and new word learning emerge. Yet it is unknown whether age-related alterations in language ability are linked with alterations in sleep. The goal of this review is to examine changes in language learning and sleep across the lifespan. We consider how sleep detriments that occur with aging could affect abilities to learn novel words and semantic generalization and propose hypotheses to motivate future research in this area.

Keywords: Consolidation; Language; Lexicon; Sleep; Spindles; Word learning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Semantics*
  • Sleep / physiology*