In 1927, Alois Benjamin Saliger, a Czech businessman, started selling a device that promised to change your life during sleep. Based on the idea that when we sleep we fall into a kind of hypnotic state, created a device that repeated motivating phrases to their clients while they slept and then woke up ready to eat the world. The invention of Saliger, who had already been convicted of fraud in 1919, turned out to have no basis: the dream has nothing to do with the state of hypnosis. However, subsequent studies have shown that it is possible to reinforce some types of learning.
In 2007, Björn Rasch conducted an experiment in which he observed that certain odors could be reinforced during sleep while he was awake. The participants in the work had to remember the location of several objects in a network and in doing so they were exposed to a scent of roses. Afterwards, these same volunteers slept in the laboratory and when they reached the deepest state of sleep, that of slow waves, they again received the smell of roses. When they woke up, they remembered much better the place where the objects were inside the network that if they did not receive the olfactory treatment during sleep. Rasch and his team had shown that it was possible to label memories and then help our brain reinforce them during sleep.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a machine was created to improve self-esteem during sleep, but it did not work
This week, a group of researchers from the University of Bern has put to the test the possibility that, in addition to reinforcing memories acquired when we are awake, during the dream it is possible to introduce new teachings. The answer, which is published in the magazine Current Biology, it is positive, but at the moment the results do not allow dreaming in learning sleeping languages.
When we reach a state of deep sleep, the cells of the brain begin to coordinate their functioning and in a synchronized dance alternate active and inactive states every half second. The researchers made the volunteers listen to two words, a first of an invented language and then its translation into German. When they listened in the state of activity tofer and key or guga and elephant, the association was impregnated in his brain. Afterwards, when they were awakened, they were able to relate tofer with something as small as a key and guga with something as big as an elephant. In addition, they observed that the hippocampus, the region of the brain fundamental for memories, was activated when the assimilated linguistic memories were recovered during sleep. "These structures seem to intervene in the formation of memory independently of the state of consciousness," says Marc Züst, a researcher at the University of Bern and one of the authors of the study.
Züst recognizes that it is still early to know if it is possible to accelerate the learning of new information by introducing it first during sleep. "It's something we're going to study, but if a first shock of unconscious learning during sleep is beneficial for later conscious learning, this type of learning might have some application for people with learning disabilities or attention deficits who have problems focusing on explicit learning or for very old people, "he explains.
Bryan Strange, director of the Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory of the Center for Biomedical Technology of the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), considers the study interesting because it defines very precisely the state in which the brain must be in order to assimilate the information. However, he believes that one can not talk so much about introducing a memory as an association and points out that the "treatment" does not improve much the percentage of successes that the volunteers would achieve by chance. "They get an improvement of 2% over 50% that would be guessed right by chance, a bit more if the word has been repeated in the peak wave window [en estado de actividad]"He says.
For now, the best use of sleep is its ability to fix what was learned in a conventional way during the vigil
Strange believes that these results have potential applications in the future to increase the possibility of learning during sleep, but points to two obstacles. On the one hand, "you have to measure two factors at the same time, you need a record of electrical activity of the brain to know when you have to launch your word or your stimulus" and at the same time, "launch stimuli based on that brain activity during sleep slow wave, "he says. The second obstacle would be the risk of interfering with the memory consolidation process of the previous day that takes place during the dream and end up losing more than what was gained.
Züst recognizes that possibility: "Sleep, memory and the brain as a whole are systems with intricate balances that have required millions of years of optimization. If we push the sleeping brain towards the acquisition of new information, we may be hindering the function that it is already performing. " For the time being, remember that this work is basic research and that your work should not be interpreted as a possibility to pass the history test by leaving the recorder with the lessons playing under the pillow. "I would recommend learning the lesson well and then going to bed early to let the brain do its job," he concludes.