New research shows dreaming about a task gives you an edge in real life.
It’s late in the evening: time to close the book and turn off the computer.
You’re done for the day. What you may not realize, however, is that the learning
process actually continues —in your dreams.
It might sound like science fiction, but researchers are increasingly
focusing on the relationship between the knowledge and skills our brains absorb
during the day and the fragmented, often bizarreimaginings they generate at
night. Scientists have found that dreaming about a task we’ve learned is
associated with improved performance in that activity (suggesting that there’s
some truth to the popular notion that we’re “getting” a foreign language once we
begin dreaming in it). What’s more, researchers are coming to recognize that
dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing and retainingwhat we
learn —and that dreams may even hold out the possibility of directing our
learning as we doze.
While we sleep, research indicates, the brain replays the patterns of
activity it experienced during waking hours, allowing us to enter what one
psychologist calls a neuralvirtual reality. A vivid example of such
reenactmentcan be seen in this video, made as part of a 2011 study by
researchers in the Sleep Disorders Unit at Piti-Salptrire Hospital in Paris.
They taught a series of dance moves to a group of patients with conditions like
sleepwalking, in which the sleeper engages in the kind of physical movement that
is normally inhibited during slumber. They then videotaped the subjects as they
slept. Lying in bed, eyes closed, the woman on the tape does a faithful
renditionof the dance moves she learned earlier —“the first direct and
unambiguous demonstration of overtbehavioral replay of a recently learned skill
during human sleep,” writes lead author Delphine Oudiette.
Of course, most of us are not quite so energetic during sleep —but our
brains are busy nonetheless. While our bodies are at rest, scientists theorize,
our brains are extracting what’s important from the information and events we’ve
recently encountered, then integrating that data into the vast store of what we
already know —perhaps explaining why dreams are such an odd mixture of fresh
experiences and old memories. A dream about something we’ve just learned seems
to be a sign that the new knowledge has been processed effectively. In a 2010
study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers at Harvard Medical
School reported that college students who dreamed about a computer maze task
they had learned showed a 10-fold improvement in their ability to navigate the
maze compared to participants who did not dream about the task.
Robert Stickgold, one of the Harvard researchers, suggests that studying
right before bedtime or taking a nap following a study session in the afternoon
might increase the odds of dreaming about the material. But some scientists are
pushing the notion of enhancing learning through dreaming even further, asking
sleepers to mentally practice skills while they slumber. In a pilot study
published in The Sport Psychologist journal in 2010, University of Bern
psychologist Daniel Erlacher instructed participants to dream about tossing
coins into a cup. Those who successfully dreamed about the task showed
significant improvement in their real-life coin-tossing abilities. Experiments
like Erlacher’s raise the possibility that we could train ourselves to cultivate
skills while we slumber. Think about that as your head hits the pillow
retain v. 保持；记住
hold out 坚持；伸出；提供；维持
slumber v. 睡眠；麻木状态；静止状态 v. 睡眠；蛰伏；麻木
overt adj. 明显的；公然的；蓄意的
extract v. 提取；取出；摘录
integrate into 成为一体，融入；使……并入
navigate v. 驾驶，操纵；使通过
odd adj. 古怪的
take a nap 睡午觉；小睡一下
odds n. 几率；胜算
pilot study 初步研究；预备试验
toss sth. into 把……扔进
1. What have scientists found between dreams and what we learn?
2. How do our brains act when we are at rest?