Categories: Sleep Science

Sleep Learning

You may have heard about the idea of sleep learning from books, magazines, the internet, or television, but may have raised your eyebrows with the thought that it actually worked. While the concept of sleep learning is far from new, a new study has found that it might actually work.

What is Sleep Learning?

Sleep learning, also referred to as hypnopedia, is the process of conveying information while sleeping. The thought behind the concept is that a sleeping brain is able to receive and process new information.

The most common approach used in sleep learning involves audio (i.e. sound recordings). In many cases, a CD or tape is used, which contains either simple messages, subliminal statements, or hypnotic instructions. While sleep learning is used in a number of applications, it is most commonly applied to breaking a bad habit or learning another language.

Does Sleep Learning Work?

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science conducted a sleep study that found that sleep actually boosts our brains’ ability to not only learn, but also remember what we learned.

In conducting the study, the researchers played various audible tones to sleeping study participants. After each tone was played, the researchers emitted an odor to the sleeping participants. Some odors presented after the tones were pleasant, while others were unpleasant.

After getting a whiff of the odor, the reactions of the sleeping study participants were interesting. The participants that received a pleasant odor reacted with a deeper breath, while the participants who received an unpleasant smell responded with a shallow breath.

As the night carried on, the researchers decided to play the tones without the accompanying odor. What they found was quite remarkable. The sleeping participants still reacted with a “sniff”, either shallow or deep, even though no odor was present. In essence, the participants were reacting to the audio tone. What’s more, when the tones were played upon wakened participants, the same sniffing/breathing reactions remained.

“This acquired behavior persisted throughout the night and into ensuing wake, without later awareness of the learning process. Thus, humans learned new information during sleep,” wrote the researchers in the Nature Neuroscience study.

The researchers at Weizmann said that this breathing and sniffing response presented even when there was no odor to sniff indicated that the subject’s brains were processing the link associated with the tone and the aroma even while sleeping.

Might Want to Give it a Try

Keep in mind that even though the results of this study revealed that people can learn new information while asleep, and that they can adjust their behavior unconsciously while awake is encouraging, what worked for one individual might not work for another. Different factors come into play such as the methods used to learn, length of sleep, stage of sleep (REM or non-REM), and so forth. That said, sleep learning may work for you. Trying sleep learning out yourself is the only way you’ll know for sure if it works for you.

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