Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Sleep boosts ability to learn language, University of Chicago researchers find


Scientists at the University of Chicago have demonstrated that sleeping has an important and previously unrecognized impact on improving people’s ability to learn language.

Researchers find that ability of students to retain knowledge about words is improved by sleep, even when the students seemed to forget some of what they learned during the day before the next night’s sleep. This paper, "Consolidation During Sleep of Perceptual Learning of Spoken Language," is being published in the Thursday, Oct. 9 issue of the journal Nature. The paper was prepared by researcher Kimberly Fenn, Howard Nusbaum, Professor of Psychology, and Daniel Margoliash, Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy.

"Sleep has at least two separate effects on learning," the authors write. "Sleep consolidates memories, protecting them against subsequent interference or decay. Sleep also appears to ’recover’ or restore memories."

Scientists have long hypothesized that sleep has an impact on learning, but the new study is the first to provide scientific evidence that brain activity promotes higher-level types of learning while we sleep.

Although the study dealt specifically with word learning, the findings may be relevant to other learning, Nusbaum said. "We have known that people learn better if they learn smaller bits of information over a period of days rather than all at once. This research could show how sleep helps us retain what we learn."

In fact, the idea for the study arose from discussions Nusbaum and Fenn had with Margoliash, who studies vocal (song) learning in birds. "We were surprised several years ago to discover that birds apparently ’dream of singing’ and this might be important for song learning," Margoliash said.

"Ultimately, our discussions stimulated a research design first proposed by Kim Fenn. The interdisciplinary nature of the research and the free exchange of ideas between animal and human work is also very exciting for us," Margoliash added.

For their study, the team tested college student understanding of a series of common words produced in a mechanical, robotic way by a voice synthesizer that made the words difficult to understand. They first measured the students’ ability to recognize the words. They then trained them to recognize the words and then tested them again to see how effective the training was.

None of the students heard the same word more than once, so they had to learn how to figure out the pattern of sounds the synthesizer was making. "It is something like learning how to understand someone speaking with a foreign accent." Nusbaum said.

The team tested three groups of students. The control group was tested one hour after they were trained and recognized 54 percent of the words, as opposed to the 21 percent they recognized before training.

The scientists next trained students at 9 a.m. and tested them at 9 p.m., 12 hours later. During that time, the students had lost much of their learning and only made a 10 percentage point gain over their pre-test scores.

A third group was tested at 9 a.m. after having been trained at 9 p.m. After a night’s sleep, those students improved their performance by 19 percentage points over their pre-test scores.

The students who were trained at 9 a.m. were tested again after a night’s sleep, and their scores improved to the same level as the other students who had had a night’s sleep.

"We were shocked by what we found," Nusbaum said. "We were particularly intrigued by the loss of learning the students experienced during the day and then recovered."

Researchers could not determine if the reduction in performance during the day was due to students forgetting what they’d learned, their listening to other speech or their thinking about unrelated issues during the day.

"If performance is reduced by interference, sleep might strengthen relevant associations and weaken irrelevant associations, improving access to relevant memories," the authors write. If information was forgotten, sleep might help people restore a memory.

Margoliash said, "Although these initial results cannot explain what is lost during the day, the question is very amenable to follow-up experiments."

Fenn added, "We are currently considering an FMRI study to investigate brain activity at the end of a day’s learning compared with activity patterns after a night’s sleep."

Catherine Gianaro | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>