Bedtime Magic – The Science of Mom’s Voice

Lisa SandersChild Sleep Consultant, Educational Material

It is a universal truth – a child naturally gravitates toward their mother’s voice over any other. From the time they are in the womb, babies begin to tune into their mother’s voice. A study back in 2014 focused on babies born before their due date. These little ones were exposed to recordings of their mother’s voice while they were feeding with a pacifier. The result? These babies got better at eating and got to go home from the hospital sooner. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. But there is more to this story. A mother’s voice can also do wonders for a child’s hormone levels. Specifically, it can lower cortisol, which is the hormone that makes us feel stressed. At the same time, it increases oxytocin, which is often called the ‘love hormone’ or ‘bonding hormone.’ In short, a mom’s voice can make a child feel less stressed and more socially connected.

Now, why should we, as child sleep consultants, care about this? Because we have got a powerful tool in our toolkit that we might not be using to its full potential. When you talk with parents who are having a hard time getting their child to sleep, remind them of this. Their voice isn’t just a way to say goodnight. It is backed by science to actually help their child feel more relaxed and secure.

From Infancy to Childhood

The logical question arises – what happens as a child grows? Neurobiologist Daniel Abrams and his team took it upon themselves to explore this. They used fMRI scans to study 24 children between the ages of 7 and 12. These children, with no developmental disorders, listened to recordings of nonsense words spoken by their mothers. The reason for the ‘nonsense words’? It was to eliminate the brain’s focus on semantics, enabling the researchers to concentrate solely on the emotional and auditory impact. Astoundingly, the children identified their mother’s voice with 97% accuracy in less than a second.

It is not just about recognizing the voice; it’s about the unique way the brain lights up in response to it. A mother’s voice activated a host of brain structures involved in emotion, reward processing, and even face recognition. We are talking amygdala, nucleus accumbens, medial prefrontal cortex, and fusiform face area. This activation pattern is so unique that it is been termed a ‘neural fingerprint.’

The Proven Link Between a Mother’s Voice and a Child’s Social Skills

The research didn’t stop at identifying this neural fingerprint. It found a connection between these voice-selective brain regions and a child’s social communication skills. This tells us that the neural traces of a mother’s voice in a child’s brain can predict the child’s social communication abilities.

So, the influence of a mother’s voice isn’t limited to early childhood but has far-reaching implications throughout a child’s life. From bedtime stories and family dinners to the very first sounds heard in the womb, the mother’s voice is a constant, shaping our emotional and social abilities just as definitively as our fingerprints do.

Using a Mother’s Voice in Bedtime Routines

Now, think about your initial consultations with families. How many times have you encountered parents who rely solely on visual cues, like dimming the lights or warm baths, to signal bedtime? It is time to incorporate an auditory dimension to these routines. Why? Because we now know a mother’s voice isn’t just emotionally comforting — it is scientifically proven to relax a child’s mind, prepare it for social interactions, and improve its ability to process stress. In a nutshell, it is a lullaby backed by neural pathways.

How Consistency and Repetition Amplify the Power of a Mother’s Voice

A great starting point is to include this powerful tool in bedtime routines. Encourage mothers to consistently use specific soothing phrases or short stories as they tuck their children in. The key here is consistency and repetition. Remember, we are trying to activate those unique ‘neural fingerprints’ that a mother’s voice leaves on a child’s brain. Over time, these verbal cues become triggers for sleep, akin to flipping a biological ‘off’ switch for the night.

Not Just for Infants

But the impact goes beyond just infants and toddlers. We have seen that children between the ages of 7 and 12 respond positively to their mother’s voice. This is excellent news for parents struggling with older kids who have inconsistent sleep patterns. Just as the voice soothes infants, it can serve as a comforting and rewarding auditory cue for older children as well.

A mother’s voice is not just a natural remedy but a scientifically validated tool for emotional and social development, which comes in handy for achieving better sleep patterns. So go ahead, spread the word and make science an active partner in helping families.

How to Become a Sleep Consultant

If you have a genuine interest in making a meaningful impact on the lives of families struggling with sleep challenges, you might consider a career as a sleep consultant. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need an extensive medical or psychological background to enter this field. What truly counts is a passion for helping families and a commitment to understanding the science and behavior behind sleep. How to become a sleep consultant? The International Institute of Infant Sleep offers a comprehensive training program that simplifies complex sleep science into actionable strategies.

As a certified child sleep consultant, you will serve as a crucial support system for families. You will guide them through the maze of sleep issues, providing them with scientifically-backed strategies to help them navigate their unique challenges. For instance, you might recommend incorporating a mother’s voice into bedtime routines, leveraging its scientifically proven benefits to not only comfort the child but also prepare their brain for better sleep and social interaction.


Anthony J. DeCasper William P. Fifer, Of Human Bonding: Newborns Prefer Their Mothers’ Voices. Science208,1174-1176(1980). DOI:10.1126/science.7375928

Olena D. Chorna, James C. Slaughter, Lulu Wang, Ann R. Stark, Nathalie L. Maitre; A Pacifier-Activated Music Player With Mother’s Voice Improves Oral Feeding in Preterm Infants. Pediatrics March 2014; 133 (3): 462–468. 10.1542/peds.2013-2547

Seltzer, L. J., Prososki, A. R., Ziegler, T. E., & Pollak, S. D. (2012). Instant messages vs. speech: hormones and why we still need to hear each otherEvolution and human behavior : official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society33(1), 42–45.