Learn While You Sleep

Napping (Photo credit: vividBreeze)

There are some really interesting research projects coming out of the neuroscience lab at Northwestern University. A couple months years ago, I wrote a blog post about a

study that shows we continue to learn after a study session if the stimulus continues while we’re doing something else. Pretty cool, right? But maybe you prefer to catch up on your sleep and continue learning.

Now there is evidence that we continue to learn when we sleep. In this study by researchers at Northwestern (Antony, J.W., Gobel, E.W., O’Hare, J.K., Reber, P.J., & Paller, K.A.), apparently published June 26 in Nature Neuroscience. I can’t find it there, and according to NU’s neuroscience lab, it’s still “In Press,” meaning it hasn’t been published yet. It could be that the study wasn’t approved by the peer review process, so there may be problems with the study. Stay tuned.

Anyway, the participants in the study practiced a musical skill requiring precise timing, then took a 90 minute nap. During the nap the participants were wired with an EKG that monitored their brain waves and when the optimal time came, the researchers played soft musical cues, using the same music participants practiced earlier. Some got the soft musical cues, and the control group did not.

They woke the participants, tried the musical task again and were measured precisely. Those who got the musical cue while sleeping did significantly better than those who didn’t get it. Sweet!

Sleep is important to cognitive function, a subject I’ve written about before, naps specificially. Make sure you get your 40 winks at night, and if you can, snatch a nap here and there, too, especially after a long or difficult practice session.

Sweet dreams!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. greentrumpet says:

    Mr. Harnum,
    I thot you might enjoy this masterclass by Patrick Sheridan:

    He caught my attention with ” I don’t teach music, I teach stress management” and his notion that most musicians are in pain.
    Nothing really new here, but I enjoyed his talk and stories behind the scenes.

    1. This is great! Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue over the last few years. Carol Dweck’s work (her book Mindsets is a great way to think about how we think about stress and the rigors of performing. A Smith (2005) has done some research along the same lines, but using the idea of “theories of musical talent” instead of Dweck’s “theories of intelligence” as a means of understanding stress and motivation. Great stuff. I appreciate you taking the time to post this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.