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 The genes are not to blame
20.07.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Targeting headaches and tumors with nano-submarines
20.07.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>