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Dreaming Found Helpful After Learning New Skill

Dreaming linked to improved performance after students learned to navigate computer maze

TUESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- After learning a new task, individuals who take a nap and dream about the task may perform it better when they return to it than those who don't sleep after learning it or sleep but don't report associated dreams, according to research published online April 22 in Current Biology.

Erin J. Wamsley, Ph.D., of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues analyzed data from 99 college students, aged 18 to 30. Early in the afternoon, subjects explored a 3-D maze on a computer. They were instructed to remember the location of a "tree" in the maze, and then quickly find it from different starting points. Afterward, roughly half were given the chance to take a nap, and the rest remained awake. Subjects in the nap group were awakened upon entering REM sleep. Subjects were retested with the computer maze late in the afternoon.

The researchers found that dream imagery related to the task during the nap was strongly associated with better performance during retesting, but thinking about the task during wakefulness did not predict better performance.

"It is not our contention that dream experiences cause memory consolidation during sleep. Instead, we propose that task-related dream experience and the subsequent behavioral enhancement of memory performance both result from an underlying process of memory reactivation and consolidation in sleep. Thus, dreaming may be a reflection of the brain processes supporting sleep-dependent memory processing," the authors conclude.

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