Brain learns while body snoozes

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — An unconscious form of memory may keep people learning even while they sleep.

A new study finds people derive vastly different effects from this sleep memory ability, with some memories improving dramatically and others not at all.

“We speculate that we may be investigating a separate form of memory, distinct from traditional memory systems,” says Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.


“There is substantial evidence that during sleep, your brain is processing information without your awareness and this ability may contribute to memory in a waking state.”

Most people in the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, showed improvement, Fenn says.

“You and I could go to bed at the same time and get the same amount of sleep, but while your memory may increase substantially, there may be no change in mine.”

This potential separate memory ability is not being captured by traditional intelligence tests and aptitude tests such as the SAT and ACT, Fenn says.

“This is the first step to investigate whether or not this potential new memory construct is related to outcomes such as classroom learning,” she says.

It also reinforces the need for a good night’s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people are sleeping less every year, with 63 percent of Americans saying their sleep needs are not being met during the week.

“Simply improving your sleep could potentially improve your performance in the classroom,” Fenn says.

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