This study reveals the way we process new information while we sleep

Can you learn while you sleep? A new study finds that humans can indeed encode verbal associative information during slow-wave sleep.

A Swiss study published in the journal Current Biology, by researchers at the University of Bern back in January of this year strengthens research dedicated to understanding how we process information while we’re asleep-the most interesting finding suggests that we are capable of processing  associative information during the brief bursts of activity we experience during light sleep known as sleep spindles. Sleep spindles are dubbed as such because of the way the high frequency waves appear on EEG readings.


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The value of sleep spindles

The recent study begins by mentioning previous studies dissecting the extent of learning possible during different stages of sleep; seven in particular conducted over the last four years all motion that simple auditory learning is possible in humans but research on more intricate verbal learning has been severely limited.

Many current sleep studies claim learning during slow-wave sleep is impractical because the sleep stage “does not provide the necessary conditions for learning.” However, the researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland determined that humans can indeed encode verbal associative information during slow-wave sleep in addition to periods of light sleep.

The researchers behind the study examined 41 young native German-speaking individuals experiencing different stages of sleep during a nap. These participants were introduced to made-up words and their meaning while they slept. Individuals that had the translation reiterated during the “up” period of sleep spindles, were able to remember the associations fairly consistently. The study states, “if they were told that ‘guga’ means ‘elephant’ while sleeping, they were able to remember that ‘guga’ was related to something big when they were awake.”

This seems to coincide with previously conducted studies that detail how information is better processed during sleep spindles. A study of 44 individuals given rigorous memory tasks at noon and again at six, showcased participants that napped in between to boast the superior performance over those that did not. That study too belongs to a great many that posit the more time you spend awake the more your learning ability decreases.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.