Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sleeping and Learning

This article in the LA Times covers some research done at Brown suggesting that learning can continue even as we sleep.

Data from brain activity measurements of the subjects whose performance had improved overnight suggested the epicenter of memory consolidation was in a small zone of the motor cortex known as the supplementary motor area -- not in the primary motor area, as earlier studies had suggested.

There's another discussion of learning continuing during sleep in a study out of SMU in this post over on the musician's brain.

The students in the first group, who had learned just the one melody, showed over 11% improvement in speed and accuracy the next morning. So while they were asleep dreaming about something else, the motor skills to play the melody they had just learned continued to improve. Pretty amazing! Surprisingly, the students in the second group, who had learned both melodies A and B, showed no improvement in either one. Learning two melodies seemed to cancel out the overnight gain for both. But for Allen, the most surprising, and perhaps most important result of the study concerned the third group. They had learned both melodies but then reviewed the first melody (A) at the end of the practice session, and they showed the same improvement in melody A after sleep as the first group – over 11%. The students in the fourth group, who learned A at night, B in the morning and then reviewed A, were similar to the second group in showing no improvement of anything.

I commented on this post, talking about how when I was working on the Brahms Requiem, during the day I focused on gnarly technical things that were giving me trouble, but at night I played through the things I'd mastered along with a CD. The idea that learning was continuing as I slept seems right to me, because there was the feeling that I'd never learned a piece of music as well, and that there was a sort of dream-like feeling to the depth of that knowing of the music.

A lot of things made the Brahms one of the most amazing musical experiences I've ever had. I've never felt so drawn to a piece of music or wanted to practice it so much. No way to prove it, but I'm convinced the sleep learning had something to do with my ability to play that music from the inside of the music in a way that involved my unconscious as well as my conscious mind.

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