Can you learn while you sleep?

Learning while you sleep: new frontier for CPD or dead end?

Are CPD professionals up to speed with the neuroscience of learning?

The neuroscience of learning endlessly interesting in theory but challenging to apply in practice in the context of learning by lawyers. Take for example two recent studies about how our brains listen and learn while we sleep.  In one study sleeping brains were played recordings of gibberish in one ear and news and current events in the other.

Brain scans revealed the sleeping brains tuned out the nonsensical gibberish and listened to the sensical recording.  The study findings suggest that parts of the sleeping brain remain alert for meaning and relevance such as threats. The study reinforcse other studies where sleepers awoke at the sound of their own name, not other names, and to the cry of their own baby, not other babies.  If the brain can listen meaningfully while we sleep then what about learning?

Sleep learning has a name “hypnopeadia” (good one for the trivia quiz!).  The early poster child for hypnopaedia was language tapes under the pillow in the hope the sleeping brain would absorb new information. It didn’t work and where it appeared to, it was later found that sleepers had been roused to consciousness by sound of the tapes.

Roll forward to today, and several studies have found that exposure to sound and smell stimuli during sleep can indeed strengthen memory of information learned earlier. In one study participants learned the locations of objects on a grid. While learning the location of some objects participants were exposed to a smell such as odour of roses. Exposed to the odour of roses again during sleep produced better recall of the location of those objects compared with objects where the was no odour during learning or sleep.

A 2018 study has produced similar results with sound cues. The study involved learning two musical sequences. Participants then took a nap and were played only one of the musical sequences while they slept.  Retesting after sleep found participants were better at the cued sequence than the uncued one.

So here we are in 2019 with newly accepted wisdom that reminding the sleeping brain of previous learning with sound and smell cues can work to solidify memory. How might we use this neuro gem in our CPD programs? A sound for a section of legislation, a smell for a particular case? The mind boggles!  There is a serious and whimsical side to all this – are we as CPD professionals keeping up to date with developments the neuroscience of learning and making any attempts to use them in our programs?

Let your imagination run free and post your thoughts to the LinkedIn group.   

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