Ever pulled an all-nighter cramming for a test? You probably learned a lot, like how sleep is important for long-term memory. While people can sometimes hold onto what they’ve crammed long enough to make it through an exam, learning without sleep doesn’t allow for adequate processing, and the information tends to spill out like marbles from a badly woven sack.
That’s all old news. Here’s what’s new: scientists at the University of Tubingen (one of Germany's top universities) have learned how to improve the processing that happens during sleep. Here’s the trick: while you sleep, play sounds that are timed with slow oscillations of brain activity. These slow oscillations, research has found, are crucial to long term processing of memories. If the sounds one plays are not in synch to slow brain oscillations, subjects in the experiment got no benefit, but when sounds corresponded to brain activity, subjects were better at remembering word association learned the night before.
"The beauty lies in the simplicity to apply auditory stimulation at low intensities -- an approach that is both practical and ethical, if compared for example with electrical stimulation -- and therefore portrays a straightforward tool for clinical settings to enhance sleep rhythms," study co-author Jan Born said.
Researchers are also excited by the possibility that this could be used to improve attention and the restfulness of sleep. Readers: make some noise about these findings so someone develops an app to improve memory, focus, and/or restfulness while sleeping.