Playing guitar then taking a nap sound nice? It’s a good idea, too! You probably heard from your teacher that you need to sleep if you want to do well on tests. Our bodies require sleep to repair and recover from the day’s work. New research, though, points at another benefit of getting some quality rest: it’s easier to retain new motor skills.
Obviously, we can point at the connection between learning a musical instrument and sleep as an easy example. However, optimizing the learning process in this way could have far-reaching implications for numerous jobs requiring skills with our hands or feet.
From musicians and athletes to surgeons, mechanics, pilots and beyond, learning and executing specific sets of movements can be a crucial part of the day.
When we learn a new motor skill, numerous parts of our brain need to work together to record and access that muscle memory. These areas lie in the subcortical region of our brains and need to consolidate the data we take in before we can easily access the new skills. The exchange of information through this network within your brain operates best while you’re sleeping.
According to Karen Debas, a lead author of the study and neuropsychologist at the University of Montreal, “When consolidation level is measured after a period of sleep, the brain network of these areas functions with greater synchrony, that is, we observe that communication between the various regions of this network is better optimized. The opposite is true when there has been no period of sleep.”
The study involved teaching participants a sequence of finger movements on a box similar to those one might learn when playing piano. After the subjects initially learned the movements, an MRI was taken of their brains while they performed their new skill, both before and after a period of sleep. Researchers taught the same skills to a control group using only the daytime (without any sleep) as the period of time between MRIs.
Once that was finished, the researchers then analyzed the subjects’ brain connectivity to see what kind of integration was occurring and where. They found it in the cortico-striatal network.
As Debas concludes, “After a night of sleep, we found that this network was more integrated than the others, that is, interaction among these regions was greater when consolidation had occurred. A night of sleep seems to provide active protection of this network, which the passage of daytime does not provide. Moreover, only a night of sleep results in better performance of the task.”
It’s always important to get the number of hours of quality sleep you need to stay energized and engaged throughout your day. With this new study, it’s interesting to learn that getting sleep after learning is important too. The results of the study could lead to a lot of beneficial discoveries into how we can best use sleep to help our brains learn new motor skills and more.
In the meantime, though, it’s important to learn how you can get the kind of rest you need on a daily basis. Olumia Life takes into account the busy lives and schedules we all tend to have. By taking advantage of several techniques based on scientific evidence, it’s possible to maintain a healthy level of rest and keep your body performing.
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