Maybe you've heard someone joke about sleeping on a textbook to "absorb" the information through their skull. Or perhaps you've come across a joke about listening to a foreign language while your sleep so you can wake up completely fluent. Many of us wish it could all be true - that we could pick up skills in our sleep. According to researchers are Northwestern University, it might be possible.
Slow-Wave Sleep + Music
During the Northwestern study, volunteers were taught how to create computer-generated music with precise key presses. Once they learned a portion of the tune, researchers then asked them to sleep for 90 minutes. This sort of sleep is referred to a "deep" or "slow-wave" sleep and is often associated with memory building.
During REM, the participants would dream and imagine situations based on their stored knowledge. During deep sleep, their minds would rummage through everything that just happened. If they were learning music, they would process information on music, though in an almost dreamlike state.
Researchers continued the music while the participants slept, playing soft, slow notes until the tune was over. When the participants woke up and continued playing the songs, there were less errors.
So how does this work?
Learning While You Sleep?
The age-old myth that you can learn a foreign language while you sleep is sure to come to mind, said Paul J. Reber, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and a co-author of the study.
“The critical difference is that our research shows that memory is strengthened for something you’ve already learned,” Reber said. “Rather than learning something new in your sleep, we’re talking about enhancing an existing memory by re-activating information recently acquired.”
There unfortunate news is you probably can't learn new things while you sleep. To summarize, if you were to practice a song and then listen to it in your sleep, you might wake up with the song memorized or with some sort of knowledge concerning how to play the song.
As far as the foreign language goes, it might be possible to spend a day studying it and then sleeping with an audio lesson playing softly. Let's hope so, because I always wanted to sleep during my Spanish courses and this would let me do both at once.
What's interesting is the idea of sound. While researchers suppose there are more ways to study during deep sleep, the concept of "playing" something keeps popping up.
Would an audio book work?
Reading In Your Sleep
Under the same theory, it might be possible to read during the day and sleep with an audio book playing at night to retain some knowledge. In fact, Ray Bradbury explores the theory in Fahrenheit 451, when Faber reads the Book of Job to Montag. In Auldous Huxley's Brave New World , humans are preconditioned through sleep-learning.
I would argue this would work more with nonfiction than fiction itself. You can probably fill in the blanks of a story based on factual information. Of course, if a fiction novel is realistic in terms of story and plot development, then the same notion might come to fruition.
For now, why don't you tell me if you've ever read or learned in your sleep? I once was in a sleepwalk-like state and wrote a story outline on the wall of my college dorm. What strange things have you accomplished in your sleep?
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