You can swot up on vocabulary in your sleep – but only if you don’t confuse your brain in the process. Researchers funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation have invited people to their sleep lab for a Dutch language course.
You can’t learn new things in your sleep. Nevertheless, if you’ve been learning vocabulary in a foreign language, it can be highly effective to hear these words played over again while you sleep, as was already shown a year ago by researchers from the university of Zurich and Fribourg. Their new study, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, demonstrates that this only works if the brain can do its job undisturbed (*).
Translating doesn’t help
The researchers got 27 German-speaking test subjects to learn Dutch words, then let them sleep for three hours in the sleep lab. The scientists already knew that playing back this vocabulary softly would help the test subjects to remember the words. Now they wanted to give them more information while they were asleep.
The research team, led by biopsychologist Björn Rasch from the University of Fribourg, wanted to enhance the technique’s impact by supplying German translations after the Dutch words. They also wanted to achieve the opposite – in other words, they hoped that supplying incorrect translations would make the test subjects forget what they’d learnt.
“To our surprise, we were neither able to enhance their memory, nor able to make them forget what they’d learnt”, says Rasch. He was able to confirm the original findings – that simply cueing the Dutch vocabulary during sleep enabled the subjects to recall about ten percent more words.
“But playing a second word right after the first seems to disrupt the relevant memory processes that had hitherto been activated”, says Rasch. He and his team have concluded that it’s not the total information offered to the brain that is important. Instead, the brain just needs a nudge in order to enhance the ability to recall.
Only in the lab – for now
The results of this memory test were reflected in the brain wave patterns of the test subjects. While individual Dutch words were being played, the researchers recorded an enhancement in the waves characteristic of sleep and recollection (sleep spindles and theta-oscillation). But these activity patterns disappeared completely as soon as another word followed on from the first.
In a subsequent experiment, the researchers were also able to demonstrate that the time span between word pairs was of decisive importance. If the German translation followed only after 2 seconds instead of after 0.2 seconds, the disruptive effect disappeared. But there was still no enhancement of impact.
“For us, these results are further evidence that sleep promotes memory formation, with the brain spontaneously activating content that it had learnt beforehand. We were able to enhance this effect by playing back the words”, says Rasch. It’s as yet uncertain whether there will soon be an app to help people get better marks in their vocabulary tests. “Now we really want to get out of the controlled situation of the sleep lab, to see whether the impact we’ve observed can also be reproduced under realistic conditions in everyday life”, he says.
(*) Thomas Schreiner, Mick Lehmann and Björn Rasch (2015). Auditory feedback blocks memory benefits of cueing during sleep. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/ncomms9729
(The SNSF can provide members of the media with a PDF file of this article. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
Professor Björn Rasch
Cognitive Biopsychology and Methods
Department of Psychology
University of Fribourg
Tel: +41 26 300 76 37 and +41 77 445 65 64
http://www.snsf.ch > Research in Focus > Media > Press releases
Media - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland
Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences
27.03.2017 | Life Sciences