Want To Learn A Skill? Practice In Your Sleep

When you’re sleeping, you’re learning.

Want To Learn A Skill? Practice In Your Sleep
[Image: Flickr user David Morris]

Let’s cut through the pillow talk: you may be learning in your dreams.


Need evidence? Look to a French study from 2011 in which researchers took patients with sleepwalking-like conditions and taught them a series of dance moves. They then recorded them sleeping and lo and behold the subjects did the dance while they were at rest.

The study shows that our bodies and brains don’t turn “off” while we sleep, they work over the things we’ve learned during the day.

As we’ve discussed before, sleep has a number of amazing functions, one which is consolidating memories. That’s why if you get less sleep, you’ll form fewer memories–a major bummer for the insanely busy set.

It’s unsurprising, then, that our dreams show that integration. The scientists say that while we’re sleeping our brains are sifting through our days, looking for the most important events, and connecting them to previous experience. This, Paul says, provides an explanation as to why dreams are such a salad of recent events and distant memories.

“A dream about something we’ve just learned seems to be a sign that the new knowledge has been processed effectively,” she continues.

A pair of very smart studies further evidence this: a 2010 Harvard Medical School study reflected that students who dreamed of a computer maze problem were 10 times more likely to navigate said labyrinth than participants who didn’t dream of the maze. Amazing, right?


But there’s more to state about dreams: in a 2010 study, Swiss researcher Daniel Erlacher asked people to dream of tossing coins into a cup. Upon waking, those who actually did dream of the coin tossing got way better at the task in real life. Further proof that if you dream on, you can dream until your dreams come true.

Hat tip: the Brilliant Report

Ever worked on something while dreaming? Don’t sleep on it: let us know in the comments.

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.