Dreaming aids learning

2010

Good news for all you daydreamers out there. Sleeping on the job could be enormously beneficial to your learning capacity. Researchers from Harvard Medical School have found that taking a nap after learning something new can help you remember it later - but only if you dream about what you've learnt, too.

Volunteers were asked to learn the layout of a 3D computer maze and asked to navigate to a landmark within the virtual space several hours later.

Those allowed to take a nap and who also remembered dreaming of the task, found their way to a landmark- a tree - much quicker. In fact they were 10 times better at the task than those who had stayed awake.

Professor Robert Stickgold, of Harvard Medical School, who led the study, said: ""What's got us really excited, is that after nearly 100 years of debate about the function of dreams, this study tells us that dreams are the brain's way of processing, integrating and really understanding new information.

"Dreams are a clear indication that the sleeping brain is working on memories at multiple levels, including ways that will directly improve performance.

"In fact, this may be one of the main goals that led to the evolution of sleep. If you remain awake you perform worse on the subsequent task. Your memory actually decays, no matter how much you might think about the maze."

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