Now you can work in your sleep

September 15, 2014

(Credit: iStock)

Parts of your brain continue to function when you’re sleeping, researchers at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and the University of Cambridge have discovered.

They recorded the EEG (brain waves) of human participants while they were awake after they were instructed to classify spoken words as either animals or objects by pressing a button, using the right hand for animals and the left hand for objects.

Once the participants were asleep, the testing continued, but with an entirely new list of words to ensure that responses would require the extraction of word meaning rather than a simpler pairing between stimulus and response. The researchers’ observations of brain activity showed that the participants continued to respond accurately to the words (although more slowly) as they slept.

The study also extends earlier work on subliminal processing by showing that speech processing and other complex tasks “can be done not only without being aware of what you perceive, but [also] without being aware at all.” Sid Kouider of Ecole Normale Supérieure suspects that such unconscious processing isn’t limited by the complexity of the task, but by whether it can be made automatic or not.