Study While You Sleep
Attention musicians! You may want to listen to your performance piece while sleeping. Studies at Northwestern University have shown that memory of musical tunes can be enhanced through sleep.
"Our results extend prior research by showing that external stimulation during sleep can influence a complex skill," says Ken A. Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern University and senior author of the study.
Participants in the study learned to play two melodies with key presses and later took a 90-minute nap. During the slow-wave portion of the sleep cycle, known to play a role in memory, the researchers played one of the two tunes. Later, the participants showed less errors when playing the melody they listened to while sleeping.
"We also found that electrophysiological signals during sleep correlated with the extent to which memory improved," says James Antony, lead author from the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Northwestern. "These signals may thus be measuring the brain events that produce memory improvement during sleep."
These findings could have great implications for learning languages as well, as it may help solidify the knowledge learned through the day. This way, the learning curve is lowered and the process becomes faster.
"The critical difference is that our research shows that memory is strengthened for something you've already learned," says Paul J. Reber, co-author and Northwestern associate professor of psychology. "Rather than learning something new in your sleep, we're talking about enhancing an existing memory by re-activating information recently acquired."
The connection between sleep and memory storage still remains relatively mysterious and elusive. From this study, Paller said, he hopes to help the researchers learn more of the brain mechanisms behind the process of cementing memory through sleep.
"These same mechanisms may not only allow an abundance of memories to be maintained throughout a lifetime, but they may also allow memory storage to be enriched through the generation of novel connections among memories," he says.
The study paves the way for further research in the process of memory storage during sleep dealing with performing motor abilities and behaviors.
Image by SashaW, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.