Learning after sleep may be key for consolidating information

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Sleep may be more important to learning than previously believed, new research suggests. Researchers from Brown University and the RIKEN Center for Brain Science provide further evidence on the correlation between sleep and learning.

Scientists found that processes specifically related to learning help a person consolidate during sleep what they learn while awake. They believe their findings provide more proof of a learning-dependent model rather than a use-dependent model when it comes to how sleep supports the learning process.

Staying up late to cram for tests has become a normal part of the high school and college academic process. Now, researchers from Brown University in the United States and the RIKEN Center for Brain Science in Japan say that this practice hinders rather than helps the learning process.

Researchers found evidence that suggests sleep helps a person absorb what they learn while awake through a process that is specifically centered on learning. This means that the more sleep a person gets, the more time their brain has to process knowledge and skills learned while they are awake.

The results from this study appear in The Journal of Neuroscience.

According to lead study author Dr. Yuka Sasaki, professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown University, sleep facilitates learning. However, researchers had conflicting models to explain how it does that — the use-dependent model and the learning-dependent model.

The use-dependent modelTrusted Source states that the amount a person learns while sleeping is the result of how the brain functions when awake. On the other hand, the learning-dependent model states that what a person retains during sleep is directly connected to a neural process specifically related to learning.

For this study, Dr. Sasaki and her team wanted to find out which model was most likely to aid learning. Researchers used two experimental sets of human volunteers, including a mix of both males and females. During the first experiment, participants learned a visual perceptual learningTrusted Source (VPL) task called a texture discrimination task (TDT). A VPL task helps strengthen the brain’s ability to comprehend what the eyes see. This helps in a variety of visual perception skills, such as visual and sequential memory, being able to differentiate between one object and another, and visual-spatial relations.

Participants in the first group underwent a pre-training test, TDT training, and a post-training test. A 90-minute nap followed the second test. Then facilitators conducted a third testing session after the nap to find out how much learning participants retained.

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