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How the Brain Learns While You Sleep

What's the Latest?

Sleep researchers are finding ways you can take advantage of your brain while you sleep. You won't master a foreign language overnight but you can consolidate the knowledge you learned during the day. This is because the brain gathers in the events of the day while you rest, working raw materials into memories. And smell, the great trigger of memories, is proving to be a powerful tool. In one experiment, researchers scented the room while individuals worked to memorize a particular pattern (similar to the game Concentration). When those smells were wafted into subjects' rooms while they slept, they remembered the pattern 23 percent better than those who did not receive the smells while sleeping.

What's the Big Idea?

Since scientists understand that memory formation occurs while the brain is functioning along certain low-level frequencies, getting individuals to imitate these frequencies while awake has also been shown to form memories. "Jan Born, at the University of Tubingen, has been at the forefront of these experiments. In 2004, he found that he could help amplify those signals using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which passes a small electric current across the skull, successfully improving his subjects’ performance on a verbal memory test." Strategies like Born's could soon be used as a preventative measure against brain degeneration, including against diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's. 

Read more at BBC Future

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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