Brain learns while you snooze

Sleeping mind can make associations between smells and sounds

1:30pm, August 29, 2012

Even while in a deep slumber, people can still learn brand new information. Sleepers soak in new associations between smells and sounds, knowledge that lingers into the next waking day, researchers report online August 26 in Nature Neuroscience.

The new study is the first to show that entirely new information can creep into the sleeping mind, says study coauthor Anat Arzi of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Sleep used to be considered a kind of reversible death, she says. “But the brain is not passive while you sleep. It’s quite active. You can do quite a lot of things while you are asleep.”

But before overtaxed students rejoice, the results don’t mean that Spanish vocabulary tapes now have a place on the nightstand. Researchers have tried and largely failed to find evidence that trickier information, such as new pairs of words, can make its way into the brain during sleep.

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