Listen up all you music majors, this information may transform the way you learn that next sonata! Researchers have recently published a study that shows skills, like learning a song, can be cemented in the brain during your sleep. Where was this research when I was preparing for my recitals in college?
The study was done by Northwestern University researchers and is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Research participants learned to play two artificially generated tunes and then were asked to take a 90 minute nap. During the nap, the researchers selected only one of the two selections to play in their sleep. They used EEG technology to monitor when the participants went into “slow-wave” sleep. It is during this period of sleep that it is believed the brain cements memories. This was the perfect time to introduce soft musical “cues” to help the participants remember the music better. Amazingly, when the participants were asked to play the tunes they had previously learned, they made far less mistakes on the one that had been played for them during their sleep. “Our results extend prior research by showing that external stimulation during sleep can influence a complex skill,” said Ken A. Paller, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and senior author of the study.
It is worth noting that this study shows that skills already learned and practiced can be solidified during sleep. It does not however, prove the somewhat common thought that one can learn a foreign language in their sleep. However, it does show promise that learning can be enhanced. “The study opens the door for future studies of sleep-based memory processing for many different types of motor skills, habits and behavioral dispositions”, Paller said. So while it does show promise I have to say to my fellow music students, better practice for those recitals first and then maybe give this technique a try enhance your learning.