The idea that the human brain might be able to learn new tasks while asleep gained a foothold in the sixties. The popularity of the idea, which heralded a flood of literature and products, has since abated as science grew ever more skeptical of the possibility. Today, definitive research has debunked the learn while asleep theory for good and all. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG) research scientists discovered that human brains, although indeed able to hear sounds while asleep, the ability to put those sounds into a state of meaningful organization was only available to the brain in a waking state.
- The act of learning while asleep, known as hypnopedia, is most famously depicted in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, Brave New World.
- While our brains continue to process sounds as we sleep, it loses its ability to meaningfully organize these sounds.
- In one study, MEG responses showed that sleeping participants’ brains could record sounds during sleep but the ability to group these sounds into 3 elements was absent.
“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.”