How do I learn language overnight

Learning in your sleep really works

Sleep is extremely important for learning. In certain phases of deep sleep, it is even possible to learn new vocabulary in a foreign language, as Swiss researchers have now reported. The vocabulary can then be called up again in the waking state.

A team headed by the psychologist Katharina Henke from the University of Bern exposed 41 women and men to sleep over headphones several times in the laboratory with fantasy words, each of which assigned different meanings.

One test person heard "Guga - bird", another "Guga - elephant". After waking up, they were asked: Is the guga a large or small object, does it fit in a shoebox or not?

University of Bern

A subject in the sleep laboratory

Joint activity of the brain cells

If the second word of the word pair reached people during a certain sleep phase, the test subjects correctly identified 60 percent of the fantasy words as something big or small - just as they had heard it in their sleep.

It was important to hit the “up-state” sleep phase. These are phases in which the brain cells are active together. They only last half a second and alternate with passive phases ("down-state") without activity. The current phase of the brain can be determined with an EEG device that measures the electrical activity of the brain.

University of Bern

The phases of activity in sleep

Memory is also formed unconsciously

So memory formation is possible both in the conscious and unconscious state, said co-author Marc Züst of the dpa. "We wanted to show that you can also learn in an unconscious state." However, this does not mean that the recommendation should generally be showered with information at night in the hope that something will get stuck. After all, one does not yet know whether this could not also have unwanted consequences.

The chairman of the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine, Peter Young, spoke of a groundbreaking study. "This is a new dimension in understanding sleep," he told the dpa. The researchers had shown that the brain can learn things associatively during sleep without consciousness.

For people with learning difficulties

However, Henke sees a possible application in people with learning difficulties. The findings could possibly lead to a two-stage learning process: on the one hand, the unconscious recording during sleep through exposure to specific learning content, reinforced by learning the same content in the waking state. Sleep researcher Young also sees possible areas of application in rehabilitation after illness and accidents.

"The study shows once again the importance of sleep for learning," said Young. It was known that sleep contributed to the consolidation of learning, i.e. to consolidating what had previously been learned. "Those who play the flute in the evening can often do the piece better in the morning because the learning effect is consolidated when they sleep well," he said. It is new that associations take place in deep sleep even without consciousness.

science.ORF.at/dpa

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