Why shouldn't we study in bed?

Brain research: do we learn while we sleep?

Dr. Hennig Beck works as a neurobiologist and comments on the latest ideas from the neuro scene for GEO every month. This time: do we study in our sleep?

Who hasn't fallen asleep in front of the television in the evening and woke up again after a few hours to discover how terrifying the program can be during the night? "Doesn't matter!" You will say. "You don't see what's on TV while you sleep."

That's also true - when it comes to conscious experience. But while we sleep, the brain is by no means resting on the lazy meninges. Rather, it uses sleep to organize the day's information. In problem-solving tasks, for example, those people who not only think about a task, but are also allowed to sleep on it, do better.

Problems are best solved in bed at night

Amazingly, the brain can do even more, because even when you sleep it still listens actively - and you can even measure it. For this purpose, test persons were first trained to react differently to words they heard: if they heard an animal's name (as with the word "horse"), they pressed a button with their left hand. For an object (for example "book"), press with the right.

Hearing a word, classifying it and then pressing it - that can be automated quickly. So fast that you fall asleep. And that was definitely desired, because the test subjects were specially in a darkened room for the experiment. While the test subjects slept, their brain activity could be followed via EEG.

Interestingly, the brain continued to classify the words in dreamless sleep phases: If the sleeping animal name was given to the ears, the brain displayed an activity as if it wanted to move the left hand, and thus simulated learning while awake.

Unfortunately, when the test subjects woke up, they did not remember the words they heard and classified in their sleep. Learning by listening in your sleep is not that easy. But even without consciousness, the brain can still react actively to new information - and that's why it processes the information that we heard or looked at immediately before going to bed particularly well.

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We also listen in sleep

A tip for all learners: If you don't want to forget something, take a quick look at it right before you go to sleep - and then turn off the light immediately. Such a spiritual bed treat has an effect in sleep, because the brain thinks even when we think that we are not thinking anything.

This may be one reason why we can react precisely to stimuli at night. When we have "learned" the sound of the alarm clock, it wakes us up more easily than a comparatively loud but insignificant sound. Parents of newborn babies are particularly sensitive and wake up to the smallest sounds.

So remember: we listen even in sleep. And even if you don't remember the TV program - who knows what traces it will leave in the brain?

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