I love bees. I always have. Aside from the fact that they can sting (and that it hurts like crazy) they’re incredibly cute little creatures. Insects don’t necessarily have a reputation for being cute but bees, well, even the haters must admit that fuzzy little yellow and black bodies with wiggly antennas are adorable. Bees are also fascinating social creatures. They have complex societies made up of workers, drones, and queens. When scouts find food they perform elaborate dances to communicate their discoveries. They build extraordinary fortresses of geometric exactitude and beauty. They predict the weather. They fight en-masse. And, when the time comes, they can scout out new locations for new colonies as a team. In order to successfully carry out all of the many roles in a colony, a bee must have a mechanism for storing memories. It turns out, just like in humans, sleep plays an important role in consolidating those memories.
Ever since I was a kid I loved the idea of sleep learning: that you could put on headphones when you went to sleep and have conversational French when you woke up. I even tried it in college when, depressed by my mounting student loan debt, I decided I was going to go for a 4.0. All I got for my trouble was a few restless nights and a headache. Today, science can’t promise you passive language learning, but there may be some hope for the lazy learners among us. A new study published in Nature demonstrates a fascinating phenomenon: sleep conditioning, a la Pavlov. Here’s how it works.