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Stimulation During Sleep Can Strengthen Memory

Update Date: Jun 26, 2012 08:53 AM EDT

A new study revealed that external stimulation during sleep can strengthen memory and help you learn. The research revealed that the stimulation can strengthen the memory for what is already learnt and not help people learn anything new.

"The critical difference is that our research shows that memory is strengthened for something you've already learned," the study's co-author, Paul Reber, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern, said in a university news release.

"Rather than learning something new in your sleep, we're talking about enhancing an existing memory by reactivating information recently acquired."

For the study, researchers from Northwestern University taught participants how to play two different musical tunes. Once the participants learnt how to play the tunes, they were put to 90 minutes sleep. While the participants were sleeping, the researchers played one of the tunes softly during slow-wave sleep, a stage of sleep that is linked to storing memories, reported Health Day.

While the participants were asleep, their brain activity was recorded by the researchers using electroencephalography. After waking up, it seems, the researchers found that the participants made fewer mistakes while playing the tune which was played during their sleep compared to the other tune.

"Our results extend prior research by showing that external stimulation during sleep can influence a complex skill," the study's senior author, Ken Paller, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, said in the news release.

"We also found that electrophysiological signals during sleep correlated with the extent to which memory improved," added lead author James Antony, of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Northwestern. "These signals may thus be measuring the brain events that produce memory improvement during sleep."

The application of this research finding is yet to be applied to other areas of learning, such as studying a foreign language, said the researchers according to Health Day. The research could also be helpful in further more studies on sleep-based memory-processing involving other types of skills, habits and behaviors.

The study was published June 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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