Learning in your sleep

September 28, 2011

People may be learning while sleeping. using an unconscious form of memory, a study by Michigan State University researchers has found.

“We speculate that we may be investigating a … new, previously undefined form of memory … distinct from traditional memory systems,” said Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology. “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.”

The study of more than 250 people  suggests that people derive vastly different effects from this “sleep memory” ability, with some memories improving dramatically and others not at all. Fenn said she believes this potential separate memory ability is not being captured by traditional intelligence tests and aptitude tests such as the SAT and ACT.  “This is the first step to investigate whether or not this potential new memory construct is related to outcomes such as classroom learning,” she said.

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

Kimberly M. Fenn, David Z. Hambrick, Individual differences in working memory capacity predict sleep-dependent memory consolidation, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2011; [DOI:10.1037/a0025268]