You Might Be Able To Learn In Your Sleep, According To Science

Unsplash/Kinga Cichewicz

Just because you’re asleep doesn’t mean your brain is in full hibernation mode. A new study from PSL Research University in Paris recently found that the mind is capable of making new memories of information attained while you’re resting.

The research team recruited 20 people with no established history of sleep problems for the study. They played white noise in the background while each person slept, and every so often, the recordings included super-brief acoustic sound patterns. When the participants awoke, they had each of them listen to the same recording again and identify the sound sequences that blended into the white noise. Each of them did so successfully (at least much better than they would have if they were just randomly guessing).

Lead study author Thomas Andrillon said he believes these new memories were made possible by the fact that the participants were processing very simple information that lacked any additional or deeper meanings. He told the Washington Post that memorizing acoustic patterns happens automatically — kind of like how when you have the radio on in the background, even a song you don’t even recognize can get stuck in your head and reappear later in the day.

“The sleeping brain is including a lot of information that is happening outside and processing it to quite an impressive degree of complexity,” Andrillon said.

Unsplash/Eli DeFaria

Interestingly, the actual learning process occurred during the REM and light stages of sleep. Only recordings heard during these parts of the sleep cycle (as opposed to non-REM deep sleep, for example) were recalled successfully the next morning. And according to neuroscientist Jan Born, this is the first time we have evidence that the particular sleep stage a person is in matters when it comes to their ability to create new memories.

Obviously, a sample size of 20 is pretty small, so we are limited in the ways we can apply this research. But it’s certainly a step in a positive direction as far as our understanding of sleep learning and memory development is concerned.

For now, though, don’t try to accomplish good ol’ book learning with an audio tape while unconscious. If only true hypnopedia was a reality… sigh.