Sleeping Through Class May Result In Better Grades
June 25, 2012

Sleeping Through Class May Result In Better Grades

John Neumann for

In news that should excite college students everywhere, you may soon be able to learn while you sleep! Recent research from Northwestern University suggests that memories can be activated during sleep and storage of them can be strengthened in the process.

Research participants learned to play two unfamiliar musical tunes with well-timed key presses. Using EEG to record the brain´s electrical activity during a 90-minute nap, the researchers made sure that the soft musical cues were presented during slow-wave sleep. During the nap, the researchers presented one of the tunes that had been practiced, but not the other.

After investigating the data, researchers found fewer recall errors with the melody that had been presented while they slept, writes Kate Taylor for TG Daily.

Ken A. Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern and senior author of the study said, “Our results extend prior research by showing that external stimulation during sleep can influence a complex skill.”

James Antony of the university´s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program explained, “We also found that electrophysiological signals during sleep correlated with the extent to which memory improved. These signals may thus be measuring the brain events that produce memory improvement during sleep.”

This research doesn´t indicate, unfortunately, that it´s possible to learn something as complicated as a foreign language while asleep. “The critical difference is that our research shows that memory is strengthened for something you´ve already learned,” says associate psychology professor Paul Reber. “Rather than learning something new in your sleep, we´re talking about enhancing an existing memory by reactivating information recently acquired.”

However, Reber continues, the technique could aid more conventional learning perhaps. “If you were learning how to speak in a foreign language during the day, for example, and then tried to reactivate those memories during sleep, perhaps you might enhance your learning,” he says.

Paller hopes the study will help them learn more about the basic brain mechanisms that transpire during sleep to help preserve memory storage. The study opens the door for future studies of sleep-based memory processing for many different types of motor skills, habits and behavioral dispositions.

“These same mechanisms may not only allow an abundance of memories to be maintained throughout a lifetime, but they may also allow memory storage to be enriched through the generation of novel connections among memories,” he said.

"Cued Memory Reactivation During Sleep Influences Skill Learning" was published June 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. In addition to Paller, Antony and Reber, co-authors include Eric W. Gobel of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, and Justin K. O'Hare of the Department of Psychology, all of Northwestern University.