Researchers from Bern University of Switzerland have published a study in Current Biology which states that people can learn new details while sleeping. Though scientists were aware that sleep can consolidate learning about new information that is acquired during wakefulness this new research reveals that learning can also occur during deep sleep. In their study the researchers have revealed associations of new foreign words during phases of sleep. Sleep research has usually concentrated around processes that consolidate memories formed during wakefulness periods. It is now evident that replay of these memories happens during sleep which strengthens the memories and embeds in knowledge store of the brain.
Researchers of the study declared that most scientists consider it impossible that learning can occur during sleep as during this period the brain lacks conscious awareness of surroundings along with chemical activity. Also studies in the past about human sleep learning have shown conflicting results. This intrigued the researchers into delving deeper into the question that if state of sleep can strengthen memory trace which forms when the person awakens why cannot the state of sleep form a memory trace which can endure into the individual’s wakefulness state.
The used electroencephalograms to record brain activity in 41 cases of male and female participants who took nap during daytime and also underwent several memory tests. During sleep the participants were encouraged to wear in-ear headphones that would allow researchers to play recorded messages of several pairs of verbs. The combination of word pairs was devised carefully in such a manner that one word was familiar and another was a pseudo-word. After the short nap they were put through a test to check their word associations formed during sleep. They found that deep sleep is the best stage for consolidating memories that were formed during wakefulness period that was part of their schedule preceding their nap time.