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I heard somewhere that listening to what you need to memorize during your sleep actually helps retaining the information. Based on that I converted a piece of text to a music file to listen last night. It didn't work. If it is true that it works then I must be doing something wrong. So my questions are two:

  • Does it work?
  • How is it supposed to be done ideally to retain the most information?
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I'm not convinced a single session is proof of anything, whether it works or not--what did you expect to happen, though? – Dave Newton Jun 11 '12 at 21:52
@DaveNewton I want to know if it's been proven to work and if so the most efficient method to do it. – Renan Jun 11 '12 at 22:40
What do you mean by "converted a piece of text to a music file", just to be clear? – weronika Jun 11 '12 at 22:45
@weronika It's a text to speech software. – Renan Jun 12 '12 at 1:19
@Renan - no, it's not been proven to work except by studies NOT subject to common scientific rigor. The most efficent way to do it, if it does work FOR YOU is the way you discover best fits your learning style...which will come from exploration and testing. Good luck! – dwwilson66 Jun 12 '12 at 13:57

Simple answer to your question is no, it doesn't work. There are no studies using scientific rigors have been able to prove anything apart from retention increasing during alpha wave state...a relaxation state. Acquisition and Processing of Information During States of REM Sleep and Slow-Wave Sleep, and Perception Without Awareness of What Is Perceived, Learning Without Awareness of What Is Learned, etc.

That being said, your mileage may vary. You may have good or bad luck. We all have different learning styles, and maximizing the learning experience is something you need to discover about yourself as you learn. If you discover that your are a sleep-learner and that it works for you, your ideal methode for retention will depend a lot on paying attention to which methods work FOR YOU.

I believe that relaxation is the key...getting yourself to a place where you're free from distractions, calm, relaxed, and focused...will stimulate alpha waves and lead to better retention. How much better? That all depends on how your mind works...there are no "right" answers. Pay attention to your mind-state and physical environment when you read a chapter and think to yourself, "Wow! I get it!" That place may be in bed for you as you frisft off to sleep. It may be lunchtime. It may be an afternoon nap. You won't know until you experiment.

I agree with @DaveNewton that whatever you do will take more than one session. There is no magic bullet to learning. It's a matter of reading the material and solidifying that experience by whatever method you find necessary - flashcards, notes, highlighting - to recall the material.

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For a lot of learning tasks beta waves are better than alpha waves. The idea that one should be in alpha for every task isn't supported by research. – Christian Jun 28 '12 at 10:05

What I can say, by reading "59 seconds" which explore a lot of myths is that we definitely use our unconscious mind when not thinking directly at the problem.

The author gives an example where you are given a challenge and then a group is given 5 min to think about it and another group is given another mind consuming 5 min activity (before going into the challenge itself). Those doing the second mind struggling activity performed much better after in the challenge. That is explained because you actually shut of our loud (and conscious) mind when doing the seconds problem and while that our brain is working on the first.

Many authors say that your brain learns more and actually memorizes better when you study before sleeping. And there is tons of Google search results for that. Thought I have seen no proven material on this theory, like the one above.

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I have also heard this, though I always interpreted it differently. I was under the impression that you can still learn via sound as you're laying down and heading to sleep, but not necessarily while you sleep. The idea is that as you enter a resting state, you are more free of distraction and thus in a better position to learn and remember what you are listening to.

What I've heard about learning that occurs while you sleep is just that material reviewed shortly before bed can still be processed and engrained in memory during one's slumber (see Fenn & Hambrick, 2011).

Kimberly M. Fenn, David Z. Hambrick. Individual differences in working memory capacity predict sleep-dependent memory consolidation.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2011; DOI: 10.1037/a0025268

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This is interesting indeed but it doesn't answer the question. There is actually a term for learning during sleep which can be either sleep-learning or hypnopedia. – Renan Jun 12 '12 at 5:37
Answering the question depends on how you define sleep. Simon and Evans, in 1956, found correlations between retention and alpha waves--the waves of a relaxed, unencumbered mind. No statistically significant increase in learning or retention was noted during sleep. – dwwilson66 Jun 12 '12 at 13:29
This alpha wave retention is presumably the learning that I spoke of. @Renan It's important to note that just because there is a term for something, it doesn't mean that the idea is based in truth. I've so far been unable to produce any literature that suggests learning can actually occur during true sleep. – RunChiRun Jun 12 '12 at 16:29

No, it doesn't work. It might actually be counterproductive because it will interrupt your sleep; and lack of sleep can cause poor memory the next day.

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How did you come to that conclusion? I mean did someone prove it innefficient or is it based on your own experience? – Renan Jun 12 '12 at 5:33
You can refer to this: The conclusion was any learning was done in a waking state. – Nada Aldahleh Jun 12 '12 at 13:13

Check out these two resources on learning while sleeping

Apparently it is possible. Both studies indicate that while we may not be able to learn new things in sleep, our memory of what we may have heard/learned before gets reinforced. Music is especially conducive to this type of learning.

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Welcome to Personal Productivity, moonstar2001. When you post links that on their own are supposed to answer the question, please elaborate a bit more on what they are talking about, so this answer can continue useful even if the links happen to be broken in the future. – Renan Jun 27 '12 at 15:06
Thanks, Renan. I added a short summary of both links. – moonstar2001 Jun 29 '12 at 7:48

I used to put a book under a pillow at school and it worked. At least I could have sworn it did...

Placebo always works. Seriously, it just breaks your sleep and you will fill tired. Keep balance. If you overload yourself you will lose motivation.

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You forgot answering the question. Is it possible or not to learn while sleeping? – Renan Jun 18 '12 at 23:17
No. It isn't work. I said that you will fill tried not more. The best way to memorize something - think about it. In other case it is like noise. Are you remember a lot about noise around? If you want to memorize something - it should attract you – RredCat Jun 19 '12 at 0:18
To my mind such kind of myth was created by lazy people who want to do nothing and get a value. – RredCat Jun 19 '12 at 7:24

As Eric K. suggests, sleep is important to memory consolidation. Getting enough sleep makes sure that your learning will be productive in the long run.

That's also why reviewing before sleep can be very useful: you are giving your subconscious mind material to process while you are asleep.

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Neither of those claims answer the question although they are somewhat related. – Renan Jun 18 '12 at 23:20

As it has been said in previous answers, sleep is very important to memory consolidation. This is a pretty imprecise statement though since there are many "sleeping states". Memory consolidation does not happen in all sleeping states. The paradoxal sleep in one of the states in which you can learn.

In practice, you can repeat in your dreams anything you have learned during the day. Using mental imaging is a very common practice for sportsmen in daytime (seeing what you are about to do before doing it). Using it at night is pretty efficient since "memory plasticity" is pretty strong at night. I apply it to myself for foreign languages and I try to practice them in my dreams, practicing the words I have learnt during the day with virtual "dream friends". We dream arounf 1h30 a night, we should not waste this time. Though it might be an interesting way of learning ... it implies that you have learnt to control your dreams (that you know you are dreaming while you are dreaming, like in inception) There is a nice amount of research ont it (Stanford Lucidity Institute Stephane Laberge). After a year of daily training, I could not stay lucid more than 2 minuts (around 2 minuts, I did not have any REM hardware to control for it). And 2 minuts is not much to practice, even if you "think" quicker while dreaming. Moreover, the fact that you can learn while dreaming does not imply than you learn better than when awaken. I guess 2 minuts of lucid learning dreaming is not much better than 10 minuts of daytime learning, as long as foreign languages word lists are concerned at least. Since very few people have the ability to control their dreams well enough to do this kind of experiment, I doubt there is any scientific proof of the efficiency of lucid dreaming learning technics. For advanced lucid dreamers you can reach a consciousness state in which what you see is generated by your brain like in any dream but what you hear comes from the outside world (cars, conversations). It can be an interesting consciousness state to test the ability to learn new stuff. I guess the best way is to try it yourself, learn some lucid dreaming technics and have a try. Have a look at the lucidity research institute. There are pleny of experiments that might interest you there.

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For me, 'learning' means to understand something (like say a scientific theory), and there is 'memorizing' which is, of course, to only remember stuff. I do not think you can learn while sleeping as you need the conscious, rational mind to understand anything, connect the dots, etc.

As for memorizing, I have tried to memorize answers for exams when young by listening to the audio (both while sleeping and non-study times). It worked for sure, but I cannot say to the degree of its success (as I cannot separate the retention only due to the listening activity). The theory, mentioned already, is based on Rapid Eye Movement, etc and the fact that we remember stuff more easily when we listen to it in rhythm (remembering music lyrics vs read lessons).

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