Falling asleep on textbooks may seem like a ridiculous way to learn (through osmosis, right?), but it's not so far-fetched. According to new research published in Nature Communications, it's actually possible to learn new information while you're asleep. For anyone heading back to school, that's some very good news.
Researchers found that the brain can actually form new memories during sleep. To prove it, scientists played complex sound patterns to snoozing volunteers. When the subjects woke up, the sleepers could actually recognize the different sounds. Though the sleep study used a very small pool with just 20 participants, it is promising information.
"Memory traces can be both formed or suppressed during sleep, depending on sleep phase," the authors explained.
The volunteers fell asleep while listening to white noise. After they were off to the land of nod, the researchers played different pings and sounds during the various stages of sleep. When the subjects woke up, some of them recognized the sounds that played during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. They didn't recognize any of the sounds that were interspersed during the white noise, which was played during lighter stages of slumber.
But before you go and grab all your textbooks on audiobook, know that the researchers aren't drawing a connection just yet. They only wanted everyone to know what they'd observed. What's more, the subjects couldn't identify how they recalled the specific sounds, only that they remembered the various auditory cues.
Quartz noted that the researchers could be witnessing the brain's process of sorting through the day's memories and prioritizing what it sees as important. The researchers are hopeful, though, saying that they'd like to study the phenomenon more thoroughly and see if it's possible to learn math ideas, languages, and vocabulary with sleep soundtracks.
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