IntroAre you having a hard time mastering a pattern? Try sleeping on it and give it another try in the morning. A new study shows sleep helps us learn complex physical tasks.
ResearchResearchers found people who learned a motor skill task in the evening, and were tested 12 hours later after a night of sleep, performed 20% better than those who learned the same task in the morning and were tested 12 hours later, without sleeping in between the two sessions. Their findings appear in the July 3, 2002 issue of the journal Neuron.
"All such learning of new actions may require sleep before the maximum benefit of practice is expressed," writes Mathew P. Walker and colleagues at the laboratory of neurophysiology at Harvard Medical School. They say this may be especially important in early childhood development, when humans sleep most, and when recovering from injuries.
For the study, researchers trained different groups of people to perform a finger-tapping task where they had to repeat the same five-part sequence as quickly and as rapidly as possible for 30 seconds.
Although each group improved with practice, and this improvement continued after they stopped practicing, the study found a night of sleep had a dramatic effect on how much the participants improved after practice stopped. A significant improvement was found after a night's sleep, but not over a similar period spent awake.
By monitoring the participants' sleep patterns, researchers found a certain part of sleep, known as Stage 2 non-REM sleep may be the critical factor in learning new motor skills. They found as much as 52% of the variance in how well the participants performed the task could be linked to how much of this type of sleep they got, particularly late at night.
In a commentary that accompanies the study, Pierre Maquet of the Cyclotron Research Center in Liege, Belgium, and colleagues say these findings "show that sleep has a favorable effect not only on perceptual but also on motor skill learning."
Due to work schedules and other circumstances, most students attend martial arts classes in the evening. Now it appears that this is the most beneficial time to learn new skills. Practice new patterns or one-steps in the last few hours before going to bed and you will probably learn them quicker.