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Take Naps and Dream! May 1, 2010

Posted by Kyle in Biology, Neuroscience, Physiology.
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As finals are quickly approaching many students are spending a lot of time studying.  No matter how much you study, it is important to remember to get a decent amount of sleep.  A recent study by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has shown that people who sleep right after attempting to learn a new task, more specifically those who dream about the task, perform better in later attempts.  Researchers hypothesized that by dreaming about a learning experience individuals would have improved performance on tasks relying on spatial memory. Researchers tested this hypothesis on 99 individuals by having them attempt a virtual maze.  They then had some individuals sleep while others stayed awake.  Individuals that slept and dreamed about some aspect of the maze performed 10 times better than other individuals. Individuals who remained awake and reviewed the path of the maze showed no improvement if they did not sleep.  These results show that something is happening while a person dreams that helps the brain sort out memory.

In another study related to learning and memory, researchers looked at how individuals evaluate their learning skills and memorization.  The researchers tested individuals by showing them a list of words and having them memorize the words. The individuals participating in the test predicted how well they would be able to remember the words.  The study showed that most of the participants underestimated their learning abilities and were over confident in their memories.  According to the researchers who performed these tests, Nate Kornell, an assistant professor of psychology at Williams College, and Robert A. Bjork of the University of California, Los Angeles, understanding how you learn and what supports learning is important to effectively manage the conditions of learning.

According to a separate study out from the University of California, Berkeley, napping can help restore brain power. The study showed that just 90 minutes of nap time can greatly improve learning ability later in the day. Past studies by the same research team have shown that pulling an all-nighter to study can decrease your ability to learn new information by roughly 40 percent. So as everyone prepares to finish off the semester, remember to not only study wisely but to also get plenty of sleep.  Hopefully I will be able to dream about organic chemistry and molecular genetics over the next couple nights, since this will apparently help me remember more. If not, at least maybe I can dream about golf and nap, and then maybe I wouldn’t be so bad at it.

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