Can we learn while asleep? Digital Trends examines some new research.
The research, published in the journal Nature, shows that new auditory memories can be formed as we sleep, although these are only laid down during particular phases of our slumber. In an experiment, sleeping subjects were exposed to white noise incorporating a recurring tonal pattern. Using electroencephalographic (EEG) and behavioral response analysis, the researchers demonstrated that subjects learned the sound patterns during cycles of REM sleep. This refers to the sleep phases characterized by rapid eye movements, which involve more dreaming, body movement, and faster breathing. Some learning also takes place during the N2 sleep phase, referring to the first unequivocal stage of sleep, during which muscle activity decreases, as does awareness of the outside world.
Interestingly, while learning is possible in these phases, in the deeper slow-wave N3 sleep, the opposite occurs. That is to say that, rather than learning, you may actually forget what you’ve learned and actively suppress memories.
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