I was once in a relationship with a young woman who said that the resolutions to some of her biggest unresolved problems at her school came to her while she was sleeping. She would simply think about the problem that was bothering her while she was getting ready for bed and resolved to find the solution, and it would invariably come to her in some form during her dreams. I attempted to do this as well but found that no resolutions ever came and that I was always dreaming about unrelated subjects — I suppose that finding solutions to problems was just a talent that she had, or somehow she trained herself to be able to do this. I still can’t do it, sadly. However, I am fairly excited to try out something not entirely different and seemingly a bit more grounded in science fact than this dream problem solving ability.

When in school, I cannot imagine that anyone would pass up the opportunity to learn while sleeping — there were always tests coming up around the corner and only so much time to study for them. It seems that a team of neuroscientists have found that it is entirely possible to do exactly that. It is not quite as simple as putting your books near your head and hoping that the information moves over on its own. The base work of learning the material remains there. What is done while you are sleeping, however, is a matter of reinforcing that which has already been learned.

During the study, people were taught musical melodies on a keyboard and then went and took naps. While napping, the songs were played for them repeatedly and after they woke up, they knew to play the melodies much better than when they went to sleep. This has limited practical application, though considerably less limited than when recording yourself speaking required a tape recorder of some sort. Now all it takes is a decent microphone and a copy of the freeware program Audacity.

Let us say that you have a Biology test in a week and need to study for it. During the process of studying for the test, you would record yourself discussing the key points in the chapters. Every evening you would play on loop the recordings of yourself going over the chapters. In theory, you should be much better prepared for the test than if you had not listened to yourself.

I will most likely have to try this out after Chaim reaches the age at which he will be able to put himself to bed without much help. Until then, I certainly invite you to try it for yourselves and see how well it works.

10 Comments

  1. Interesting article, Gordon. Do you not tap the power of the subconscious mind? It can be a great and helpful thing when you learn to actively leave alone a problem and let the other part of your mind go into solving mode.

          1. That’s it, Gordon. I take walks, too, when I get stuck on a problem. I go out, think about other things and then later on the answer magically appears on its own. Consciously letting go of the problem is the key to making it happen. That’s the hardest part to learn because we tend to want to actively seek solutions until we feel we’ve solved it. Letting go of unsolved things is tricky.

          2. When I’m writing books or something technical and serious and I get tired or stuck or can’t think of how to clearly explain a complex idea, I take a pause and play a computer game to do some demon shooting or I pick up the guitar and play a song or two. Then slowly, magically, the problem I was working on begins to form “out there” in the ether and I can sense the progress as I’m doing those mind distractors. I’m practiced enough with that method now that I can “self-check” the sub-conscious to see if my mind is “finished enough” with the answer I’m seeking and I can get back to work or if I need to continue killing and playing scales a little while longer. It’s hard to disconnect from the task, but that is how multi-tasking works for me on a sub-conscious, problem-solving level.

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