Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dream a Little Dream...

Tara Parker-Pope writes in the NY Times about a team of researchers who ponder the question - why do we dream? Some new research may have unlocked a little of this mystery and it leads to some interesting conclusions about how and why we learn. Dreaming may actually result from the brain’s effort to keep learning... even as we sleep!

In a study released by Current Biology, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, volunteers trained visualized their way through a complicated, three-dimensional puzzle. Half the volunteers were allowed to sleep for 90 minutes while the other half stayed awake, reading or relaxing. During their resting period, they were awakened and asked to describe their thoughts or dreams.

After the resting period, the volunteers were asked to again tackle the maze and were graded. Those who napped but didn’t report any 'maze-related' dreams did better but showed only marginal improvement over the non-nappers.

However, a few of the nappers reported dreaming about the maze and showed a startling improvement in their task, cutting completion time in half. The difference in scores before and after sleeping was 10 times higher for the maze dreamers than those who hadn’t dreamed about the task.

Even though the number of 'maze dreamers' was small, researchers noted that the gap in learning was so wide that the finding was statistically significant.

'Notably, the dreamers had all performed poorly on the test prior to dreaming about it. That suggests that struggling with a task might be the trigger that prompts the sleeping brain to focus on the subject and work on getting better', explained the lead author, Robert Stickgold.

'It’s almost as if your brain is rummaging through everything that happened today and deciding that you’re not done with it. The things that really grip you, the ones you decide at an emotional level are really important, those are the ones you dream about. The things you’re obsessed with are the ones that your brain forces you to continue to process.'

Dr. Stickgold continues, 'If you’re a student and you want to do better on the test, you might need to dream about it. The question is, ‘How do I get myself to dream about it?’ The answer is to get excited about it. That seems to be what you dream about.'

We'd love to hear your thoughts and comments about this study and in particular, dreams regarding music or learning music. Maybe this is why passionate music makers often show improvement from week to week with limited practice time?

Read Tara's complete article here.

No comments: