Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

We learn while we sleep - Link discovered between slow brain waves and learning success

30.06.2004


If you want to pass an exam, be sure to get some good sleep before-hand. Because in sleep the brain processes and consolidates newly learnt matter. This is revealed in a new study shortly to be published in Nature. The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

As soon as deep sleep sets in, the brain cells start working in concord. Like football fans raising their hands in unison during a Mexican wave, millions of individual brain cells respond simultaneously with an electric signal. They thus generate the regular, low-frequency brain waves that are characteristic of deep sleep. Until now, the purpose of this brain activity was largely unknown. The shortly to be published study puts this function in a new context. Slow brain waves appear to consolidate and reinforce freshly learnt matter, explains Reto Huber, who conducted the study at the University of Wisconsin laboratory of Giulio Tononi in Madison, USA. The study is due for publication in the prestigious science journal Nature* on 1 July. Reto Huber holds a grant from the Swiss Foundation for Medical-Biological Scholarships (SSMBS) that was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

For the purpose of the study, Reto Huber set 12 subjects a special learning task and then measured their brain activity during sleep. The subjects first had to accomplish a learning test on a computer. The basically simple task consisted of using a mouse to move the cursor to a set point on the screen. Subconsciously, however, they were learning new motor skills, because what the subjects did not know was that the computer was programmed to generate a slight aberration in the direction of the cursor movement, which they had to compensate for by modifying the mouse movements. Moreover, since their hand was covered during the experiment they did not realize the computer was playing tricks on them. Conscious learning very often involves many areas of the brain, which would have made it much harder to demonstrate local activation, explains Huber.



Such unconscious motor skills learning takes place in a small, thumbsized region of the right cerebral cortex, as other researchers have already shown. Reto Huber now wanted to find out whether this region of the brain displayed any special activity during sleep. To this end, he recorded the brain wave activities of the study subjects in their sleep by means of 256 electrodes attached all over their heads.

The large number of electrodes enabled Huber not only to register, but also to pinpoint the precise location of brain activity.

The deeper you sleep, the better you learn

And indeed the young Swiss researcher discovered what many brain researchers considered impossible. We noticed larger slow brain waves in the area of the brain that had been used for the test and nowhere else, said Huber. Not only that. The subjects who were most successful at mastering the test the next morning were also those whose brains had produced especially large slow waves during the night. The night-time brain waves seemed not only to have consolidated, but also to have enhanced performance in the computer-based test. Our study provides the first evidence that sleep plays an important role in learning processes, concludes Huber.

Scientists are still largely in the dark about the processes that actually take place in the brain during sleep at night or an afternoon nap. In particular, what happens at synapse level is largely unknown. Sleep researchers are considering the possibility that nighttime brain activity tests and sorts out newly created synapses. Important synapses would be retained and reinforced, unimportant ones disconnected. The slow brain waves may be performing a functional test of the synapses, says Huber.

Alexander Borbély, the Zurich sleep scientist under whose tutelage Huber obtained his doctorate, is impressed by these latest results. They prove that sleep can have highly localized effects on the brain. I believe these are very important findings.

Philippe Trinchan | CORDIS Wire
Further information:
http://www.snf.ch

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Deep stimulation improves cognitive control by augmenting brain rhythms
04.04.2019 | Picower Institute at MIT

nachricht Black nanoparticles slow the growth of tumors
04.04.2019 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter

  • Coolest and smallest star to produce a superflare found
  • Star is a tenth of the radius of our Sun
  • Researchers led by University of Warwick could only see...

Im Focus: Quantum simulation more stable than expected

A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.

Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...

Im Focus: Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications

The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...

Im Focus: A long-distance relationship in femtoseconds

Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.

Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...

Im Focus: Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties

Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna

A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

Fraunhofer FHR at the IEEE Radar Conference 2019 in Boston, USA

09.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>