- If you’re learning a language but are finding it a slow process, there may ways to speed things up.
- Your brain can establish links between words in two languages while you’re asleep.
- That means sophisticated learning is possible while you’re snoozing.
While we can’t exactly work or cook at the same time as snoozing, our brains are still very much active while we’re asleep.
Our brains are constantly processing information, even during deep sleep – and new research suggests that it may actually be possible to learn new information while we sleep, according to research published in Current Biology.
Previously learned information can be remembered during deep sleep, so the scientists’ predicted that it might be possible to absorb new information too.
Led by Katharina Henke, Marc Züst, and Simon Ruch from the Bern Institute of Psychology, a team of scientists tested whether it was possible to learn a new language while sleeping.
It’s difficult to define states of consciousness such as ‘asleep’ and ‘awake’
Though we use the terms “awake” and “asleep” a lot to define our state of consciousness, our brains aren’t quite that straightforward.
Our brains alternate between two phases approximately every half second — active phases or “up-states” and passive phases, also known as “down-states”.
In the experiment, participants were given headphones to listen to while asleep.
Words from an artificial language played while they slept, as well as the German translations for these words — when the second word of a pair was repeatedly played in an “up-state”, meaning associations were formed unconsciously in the brain.
Recordings playing through the participants’ headphones suggested that “Tofer” meant “key” and “Guga” meant “elephant”. On waking up, the subjects were able to determine whether “Tofer” or “Guga” denoted larger or smaller objects.
“It was particularly interesting that language areas and the hippocampus — which normally regulate language-learning while we’re awake — were also activated when learning the vocabulary learnt in deep sleep,” said co-author of the study, Marc Züs, in an Informationsdienst Wissenschaft press release.
“It seems these structures regulate memory formation independent of whatever state of consciousness we’re in — whether unconsciously in sleep, or consciously while we’re awake.”
So it seems sleep is not a state where we’re shielded from the outside world, as was widely accepted in the field of sleep research — that means sophisticated learning is possible while you’re snoozing.