Monday, August 6, 2018

Is Learning While Sleeping Possible?

Can you learn while you sleep?

Led by Philippe Peigneux – ULB Neuroscience Institute -, a group of researchers found that our learning capabilities are limited during slow wave sleep. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), they showed that while our brain is still able to perceive sounds during sleep, it is unable to group these sounds according to their organisation in a sequence.

Hypnopedia, or the ability to learn during sleep, was popularized in the '60s, with for example the dystopia Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, in which individuals are conditioned to their future tasks during sleep. This concept has been progressively abandoned due to a lack of reliable scientific evidence supporting in-sleep learning abilities.

 Recently however, few studies showed that the acquisition of elementary associations such as stimulus-reflex response is possible during sleep, both in humans and in animals.  Nevertheless, it is not clear if sleep allows for more sophisticated forms of learning.
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A study published this August 6 in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers from the ULB Neuroscience Institute (UNI) shows that while our brain is able to continue perceiving sounds during sleep like at wake, the ability to group these sounds according to their organization in a sequence is only present at wakefulness, and completely disappears during sleep.

Juliane Farthouat, while a Research Fellow of the FNRS under the direction of Philippe Peigneux, professor at the Faculty of Psychological Science and Education at Université libre de Bruxelles, ULB, used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record the cerebral activity mirroring the statistical learning of series of sounds, both during slow wave sleep (a part of sleep during which brain activity is highly synchronized) and during wakefulness.

During sleep, participants were exposed to fast flows of pure sounds, either randomly organized or structured in such a way that the auditory stream could be statistically grouped into sets of 3 elements.

During sleep, brain MEG responses demonstrated preserved detection of isolated sounds, but no response reflecting statistical clustering. During wakefulness, however, all participants presented brain MEG responses reflecting the grouping of sounds into sets of 3 elements.

The results of this study suggest intrinsic limitations in de novo learning during slow wave sleep, that might confine the sleeping brain's learning capabilities to simple, elementary associations.

Contacts and sources:
Philippe Peigneux UR2NF - Neuropsychology and Functional Neuroimaging Research Group au CRCN - Center for Research in Cognition and Neurosciences, ULB et UNI - ULB Neurosciences Institute

Valérie Bombaerts
Université libre de Bruxelles

Citation: Lack of frequency-tagged magnetic responses suggests statistical regularities remain undetected during NREM sleep
Juliane Farthouat, Anne Atas, Vincent Wens, Xavier De Tiege, Philippe Peigneux.. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-30105-5


  1. Group of researchers research on phenomena that Is Learning While Sleeping Possible? Few studies by researchers showed that the automatic response is possible during sleep, both in humans and in animals. This is very interesting fact present by Psychological Science and Education. The outcome of this reserach suggest limitations in learning during slow wave sleep, that might detain the sleeping brain's learning capacities to simple.

  2. Subliminal learning in your sleep is usually dismissed as pseudo-science at best and fraud at worst, but a team of Swiss psychologists say you can actually learn a foreign language in your sleep.The scientists found that those who had listened to the Dutch while sleeping were much better at recalling the new words.

  3. Nice Blog Post. Yes when learning/reading the book while sleeping is possible. So when the mind is stressful. To take rest for your mind. So when sleep at night. Thanks for sharing this informative post. So keep sharing this content i like it. I would like to share with my friends. For more info go to