To sleep, perchance to learn.
June 26, 2006 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything to be gained by playing recorded lectures while I sleep?

I'm currently preparing for two bar exams, and as part of my preparation I've been listening to CDs of lecturers speaking on various areas of the law in my car and when I work out. Would playing them at home as well while I sleep (my stereo has a 3-disc changer so I could play a few hours per night) allow me to subliminally absorb at least some percentage of the information? Conversely, would there be any detrimental effect to doing this – does the brain need a break from stimuli while you sleep? Will I just end up giving myself nightmares about contracts and property law?

(By the way, and to head off some of the peripheral advice that may be coming: I'm not panicked and cramming, just curious about the possibility of a little effortless learning.)
posted by amro to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Short answer: no.

Long answer: although various "sleep learning" programs and devices have been around since the 70s, studies have shown no beneficial effect. You just don't take in that information like that while you're sleeping.

Having said that, I used to listen to tapes and notes as I was going to sleep (not asleep) and found it a useful way soak in particular sorts of learning, especially rote memorization.
posted by outlier at 4:48 AM on June 26, 2006

I find that when I sleep with the radio on, I can recall news I heard while I was asleep. so, the answer is: possibly!
posted by Izzmeister at 4:57 AM on June 26, 2006

No, doesn't help. Used to work in a language center, studies show that it is just a marketing scam, no scientific proof or explanation to back it up.
posted by zaelic at 5:03 AM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

might be possible that what you hear as you FALL asleep will linger around in your brain while sleeping. But once your actually asleep you wont take any more in.
posted by lemonfridge at 5:05 AM on June 26, 2006

I think it works. Once, when I had to sing in a competition and didn't know the words to the song, I played it all night as I slept. When I woke up, I knew the words and aced the competition. Maybe it only works for music?
posted by fvox13 at 5:22 AM on June 26, 2006

You will only hear it during brief periods when you wake up a bit. I've fallen asleep to music and other audio, and woken up during the night because of the sound.

You may pick up snippets, but I think it probably costs more in lost sleep than any potential gain. Better to listen to them when you're awake in the morning.
posted by tomble at 5:32 AM on June 26, 2006

An old saw that I recall from my college days is that if you cram under certain conditions (e.g. drunk, or hopped up on NoDoze), you can only recall the facts in that same condition. I.e. you'd need to take the test drunk, or in this case sleeping.

Probably an old students' wives tale ...
posted by intermod at 5:47 AM on June 26, 2006

I built a "mind machine" when I was in my teens that would flash LEDs in sync with music, after reading this book. I put the LEDs in some wrap-around sunglasses and would use it along with a ambient music CD I had, just to see what would happen, which generally meant I relaxed a lot for about 10 minutes and then fell asleep.

One thing I noticed was that I knew songs on the CD I had never listened to while awake. I never did it all night though, and I suspect the light from the LEDs was just keeping me marginally awake, hence the memory of the songs. Worse, when I remembered one of these songs it always made me sleepy! This is similar to the advice I've heard about smell being the strongest sense we have and that learning while smelling an orange might allow a person to recall the info later while smelling an orange. The environmental factor is tied in with the recall mechanism.

One other side effect was my dream recall skyrocketed, to a point where it was getting hard to distinguish between things that happened in a dream and things that happened in reality. I'm sure that sounds funny but spend a few minutes and think about that. It completely freaked me out so I ditched the effort completely. 10 years later I'm just now starting to remember bits and pieces of my dreams, and I can't say I'm particularly thrilled with even that much.

Lesson learned: don't screw with sleep. We're not at the point where we understand it as much as we need to before we start experimenting like this. I suspect if you were to do this you'd sleep badly and begin to associate sleep with law, which wouldn't help much in any professional situation. There are some studies showing that sleep is integral to the learning process because it gives the neurons a chance to sort of rewire themselves around the new information (really bad explanation, as is the article) but that only kicks off once the directed attention to a topic ends. It has to happen in the downtime. Without the downtime you'd probably endanger yourself further.
posted by jwells at 6:09 AM on June 26, 2006

Yes, it will help. If you're anything like me, the best sleep aid is listening to a droning lecturer. You won't learn anything extra, but your brain will be well-rested for study.
posted by Doohickie at 7:01 AM on June 26, 2006

Worse, when I remembered one of these songs it always made me sleepy!

OK, it would be too funny if this was true in general: that "sleep learning" causes an association between the topic and being asleep, making people get drowsy when they think of their "sleep learning"subject. Heh.
posted by GuyZero at 8:03 AM on June 26, 2006

I don't think it will work. Keep something in mind though. Sleep is very important to learning. Your mind integrates what it's learned in the previous day during sleep.
posted by Good Brain at 8:49 AM on June 26, 2006

Yes, it will help. If you're anything like me, the best sleep aid is listening to a droning lecturer. You won't learn anything extra, but your brain will be well-rested for study.
posted by Doohickie at 9:01 AM CST on June 26 [+fave] [!]

Great answer. (Seriously).
posted by Ynoxas at 8:58 AM on June 26, 2006

Ah, I was just thinking the same, Good Brain: "What will I gain?" The ability to sleep through any lecture, no matter how interesting.
posted by wzcx at 1:34 PM on June 26, 2006

Thanks for the responses. I may try listening for just a little while while I'm falling asleep.
posted by amro at 12:50 PM on June 27, 2006

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