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Can I Study Whilst Asleep?

IB students worldwide know the pain of getting less than enough sleep day after day because of studying into the late night. During some of these late nights you must have pondered, “Is there any way of me learning all this while sleeping?” You might have heard rumours that ‘listening to vocabulary while asleep will help you remember the words’, but is this actually true? Let’s find out whether you can study whilst asleep!

First of all we must define what ‘learning’ means. Consistently, most studies have found that learning completely new information whilst asleep is virtually impossible. So, suppose you’ve completely forgotten to study for a Spanish test, and you’ve never looked at the vocabulary before, then turning on an audio recording of the words while you’re asleep won’t help you absorb them. However, if we define ‘learning’ not as absorbing completely new information, but instead consolidating information that you have already studied, then the results look more promising!

A study conducted in 2015 by Schreiner, Lehmann, and Rasch found that listening to foreign words during your sleep can actually be highly effective for your future ability to remember those words. That being said, you need to make sure that the recordings you’re listening to don’t confuse your brain. If the translation follows less than 2 seconds after playing the original word, then the positive impact is essentially wiped out. It seems as if most of the positive impact comes simply from hearing the foreign language, rather than your brain mapping words to their English translations. 

Moreover, it also seems that the positive impact can only really be found within learning foreign languages. Learning mathematical formulae or memorizing chemistry compounds seems to be impossible for the brain to do while you’re asleep. 

However, even if you can’t learn other subjects while asleep, we still highly recommend playing a podcast before you go to bed on any subject! Whether it be maths, sciences, languages, or natural sciences, hearing information right before you fall asleep can be extremely positive! Many studies have shown that your brain is best at memorizing information just before you fall asleep, as your brain will then be processing that information during the night. So, if you turn on a podcast (or audio recording of you speaking through your notes) a few minutes before bedtime, odds are you’ll wake up remembering more of them!

Try it out and see if it works for you! You can even do an experiment where you take 5 minutes to learn 20 words in a foreign language, and then the following day take 5 minutes to learn 20 words in another language as well as playing an audio recording of those words while you sleep. Test it, and maybe you’ll find that your memory is heavily affected by hearing the words while asleep! Let us know what you find!

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