A newly published study suggests that dreaming about a new or difficult task can actually make the task easier to perform once awake. In the experiment, volunteers were asked to navigate through a virtual maze. After familiarizing themselves with the maze, the subjects either slept or performed a quiet task such as watching videos. In the third step of the study, subjects were again asked to navigate through the maze. People who slept improved on the task more than those who did not sleep, and those who dreamed about the maze improved the most.
To have a positive effect, the study participants’ dreams did not have to relate directly to the task of navigating the maze. For example, one subject dreamed of caves that reminded him of the maze. These indirectly related dreams improved scores more than non-related dreams did. The researchers propose that during certain phases of sleep—and dreaming—the brain builds connections between neurons (brain cells) that assist learning and memory. Dreaming allows the brain to assemble memories of a task in a more understandable way, making the task easier in the future.
The results of this study give students and other learners a good reason to take a short nap after studying or before a test—in case you needed an excuse! But the authors of the study say it will take further experiments to determine the effect of a full night’s sleep. They also hope that further study might help our understanding of how to harness the brain’s power to aid itself in learning and forming memories.
- Dream a Little Dream of Recall
This article describes the research study and compares its findings with those of related studies.
(Source: Science News, April 22, 2010)
- Naps and Dreams Help Academics
The article gives information on interpretations of the findings of the research study, and includes quotes from the study’s coauthor about the team’s conclusions.
(Source: PsychCentral.com, April 23, 2010)
- Naps Boost Memory, but Only If You Dream
This CNN article describes the research methods used and the effects of the study. It also describes how the findings could help students or other learners to acquire knowledge more easily.
(Source: CNN, April 23, 2010)