TUESDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) -- Got a big decision to make
and thinking about sleeping on it?
A new study suggests that might be a good idea; it found that
people did a better job of learning a game when they got some
The research doesn't prove that sleep will help you learn more
effectively. But it does provide more evidence that your brain
doesn't just rest and dream when you're asleep, said study
co-author Rebecca Spencer, an assistant professor at the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The brain appears to also be reviewing the day's events and
processing them, she said. "You put the movie in and you replay it.
This says sleep is really adding something, that we shouldn't go
with our gut instinct. We should sleep on it," she said.
It may seem obvious that people would perform a task better
after getting some sleep. But Spencer said the new study is unique
because it looks at people who had a brief chance to learn
something and then either slept or stayed awake.
Other sleep research has focused on memory and on what happens
when people don't get enough sleep. "Everything falls to pieces
when you've been sleep-deprived," she said.
In the study, researchers assigned 54 college students (aged
18-23) to one of two groups. One learned a gambling game in the
morning, while the other learned it in the evening, although no one
was allowed to learn the trick to beating the game. Then they came
back 12 hours later to play the game.
Those who had a chance to get a full night's sleep after
learning the game did a better job of figuring out the trick to it.
Eighty percent of those who slept figured out the trick to the
game, while 40 percent of those who stayed awake did, Spencer
The researchers assigned the game to other groups of students
and found that the time of day when they played it didn't affect
their performance, boosting the case that sleep was a crucial
factor for the first two groups.
What's going on? The brain appears to process what it's learned
during sleep, Spencer said. "It's filing it away. And when you file
things, you're not just putting them in the file drawer. You're
putting them in a real organized fashion, you're filing it next to
Sleep researcher Michael P. Stryker, a professor at the
University of California at San Francisco, said the study does have
an important limitation: "Is the difference really a gain in
performance after sleep because of some kind of 'insight' or
'problem-solving' that happens during sleep, or is it that being
awake for 12 hours makes you less able to perform the task?"
Sleep researcher Michael Anch, an associate professor at Saint
Louis University, said the study "emphasizes the growing awareness
of the importance of sleep for optimal cognitive functioning."
"This study is consistent with other studies suggesting that sleep allows you to integrate learned information from various brain regions, which is not allowable by instant decisions," Anch said. "This gives credence to the notion that if you have a decision to make, sleep on it!"
The study appears in the current online issue of the
Journal of Sleep Research.
For more about
sleep, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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