Sleep learning!  Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie doesn’t it? Well to be honest, that’s more or less what it is at the moment. The idea of for instance learning a completely new language whilst you’re fast asleep is still pretty much a dream. But because we’re so passionate about everything to do with sleep here at Dreams, we thought we’d dig a little deeper and see if there was anything at all to be said for the possibilities of sleep learning. And actually, there is! A bit.

OK in theory, but not too sure in practice

Basically, sleep learning, which is also known as hypnopedia is the principle of conveying information to a person by playing a sound recording to them as they sleep. In theory this does seem plausible, but research has largely discredited the effectiveness of the technique.

The main problem with the idea of sleep learning is that disturbing your sleep patterns in this way would actually make your brain more alert and more than likely stop you falling asleep in the first place, let alone retaining knowledge whilst you sleep.

A better chance of recalling information

There is though something to be said for learning immediately before you go to bed. If you take in information just prior to bedtime the brain can them store and compile it over a number of hours as you sleep. This doesn’t mean that you’ll wake up instantly knowing everything that you learnt the night before, but it will give you a much better chance of recalling information that has been committed to memory.

A sleep learning study shows memory improvement

Also intriguing is some recent research by the Swiss National Science Foundation who claims that listening to newly-learned foreign words while sleeping can help improve the memory of them.

In the study, a number of German speaking students were asked to learn some Dutch words that they had never seen before at 10pm.  Half of the group then went to sleep and had the words played back to them whilst they slept, while the other half were simply kept awake to listen to the words. The first group was then woken in the middle of the night and all students were tested on the new vocabulary. The Scientists found that those who had listened to the Dutch while sleeping were much better at recalling the new words than those who’d remained awake.

The jury’s still out…but who knows?

The Swiss study certainly doesn’t prove that you can learn a language while you slumber, but it does seem to show that some sort of stimulus applied in your sleep can help you recall recently acquired memories. In a different study in 2012, scientists found that they were able to condition people to associate smells with certain sounds as they slept, so maybe the whole idea of sleep learning isn’t quit as far fetched as we thought. Give it some time and we may even be selling sleep learning tapes in your local Dreams store; but don’t hold your breath.