It May Be Possible To Learn In Your Sleep, But It's Not What It Sounds Like

Brilliance | Dec. 09, 2017

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Seems like a horrifyingly huge chunk of time to waste (it's not). If only we could throw sleep into a multi-tasking array so we could be productive. At. All. Times. Well, buckle up, because research supports the idea that we can learn in our sleep...kind of.

A Dream Is A Wish Your Brain Makes

Imagine pressing play on your laptop and snoozing the night away while Italian language lessons guided your unknowing brain toward fluency. Rude awakening alert: that's probably never going to happen. But some weird tiny hint of that scenario could. According to a study published in August 2017 in the journal Nature Communications, you may be able to "learn" in your sleep.

In the study, researchers played white noise while 20 participants (with no previous sleep disorders) slept. Mixed in with the white noises were tiny snippets of acoustic melodies, almost too short to be detected. Then, while the participants were awake, the researchers asked them to pick out the little sequences from the white noise. The participants successfully did it at a rate better than if they had just randomly guessed.

Dream On, Pal

Alright, wake up, people. Your dream of learning Italian while you're unconscious on your pillow is still a few steps away. Saying that we can learn while dead-asleep is a bit of a stretch; this study showed that the brain can form memories in certain sleep cycles. Not as sexy, sure, but the name of the information game is accuracy. The researchers found that if the sounds were played during REM sleep, the participants could recall them in their wakeful states. A sort of opposite phenomenon, the participants' brains "un-learned" the sounds in their wakeful state if the noises were played during non-REM sleep. For now, don't bank on using bedtime as a study session.

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