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Study: It’s impossible to learn while we sleep

We’ve all toyed with the idea of learning a new language or business plan in our sleep. However, a new study thinks that we’re doomed to fail. Killjoys.



The idea of hypnopedia (or learning during sleepy times) has long been proved by 3am television and your more tiresome relatives alike. Sadly, a new study looks to finally nail the coffin on Aunt Sandy’s nocturnal French lessons.

The findings suggest that the human brain does not function in the same way when we are sleeping, putting a biological limit on the amount that actually sinks in.


However, it’s not all a scam, as several studies have suggested hypnopedia might be moderately legitimate. In 2014, a team of Israeli neuroscientists found that they could train sleepers to make subconscious associations between cigarette smoke and foul odours.

Back to reality, and the researchers used a technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure the brain activity of participants during wakefulness versus during slow-wave sleep (aka non-rapid eye movement sleep, or NREM), both times being when the activity of the brain is high

While the MEG group showed evidence that patients could hear individual sounds during sleep, there was no response that indicated the brain could group it beyond processing random bursts of information.

When awake, however, all participants were able to group the sounds into three elements.


In conclusion, on some basic level hypnopedia appear to be possible, however learning a foreign vocabulary or the secrets of the universe – not so much.

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