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Can You Learn While You Sleep?

The sleep process, along with any benefits associated with it, has always been largely mysterious to scientists. But recent breakthroughs in science and technology are finally allowing small glimpses into the unknown. 

While it is widely known that sleep serves as a resting period where the body slips into an unconscious state and accelerates growth and rejuvenation of the nervous, immune, muscular and skeletal systems, not much else is known about it.  Until it was disproved in the mid-1950's, it was believed that people could learn things in their sleep just by having sound recordings played back to them.  While this was unfortunately not the case, scientists have recently discovered that sleep does indeed affect learning . . . and not just by making you flunk math from napping in class.

A study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General reveals that not only does the brain consolidate and organize memories during sleep, but it actually creates memories and "installs" them into your brain by the time you wake up, allowing you to remember things from the day before.  For this to be effective, you need the right amount of REM cycles and plenty of sleep.  If you end up not sleeping enough, this "memory creator" ends up potentially fragmenting your thoughts, which still lets you remember things but not as clearly.  Students might already be familiar with this theory if they have noticed that cramming  everything in at once before a big test does nothing to help their memorization. 

Another theory states that the memories you create during sleep are limited to only "procedural memories" that have been recently learned or practiced.  In a nutshell, procedural memories are many different protocols that lay dormant in your subconscious and which do not come to the foreground of your mind until you need them.  Examples of these types of memories are things like riding a bicycle, tying your shoes, and even reading.  These protocols are not something you think about constantly; rather, you only call up the memory when you need it. 

Whether or not this breakthrough has a large impact on the scientific community, it will have at least shown us yet another variable we must try to decipher before we can truly find out how to increase memory and figure out the vast mysteries of sleep.  There are still many things left undiscovered in this particular field of study, but we are gradually beginning to grasp just how expansive and complex our subconscious really is.

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