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Dream of Improving Memory? Go Dreaming!


Experience says: You never work hard but just sleep.

Experiment says: If you want to have good memory, you need enough sleep because dream can help enhance our memories.

Is there any way that can help one enhance memory without too much effort? Don’t be dreaming, and go to study!

While, there actually exists kind of way that require less effort, and you may think I’m out of my mind, but the answer is—go dreaming!

You may have similar experience: you did a lot of math work during daytime and you will dream about math in your dream; if you learn a foreign language a lot during daytime, you’ll talk foreign language in sleep. When you share such experience to others, they may say it’s like “That which one thinks about during the day, is what one is likely to dream about at night” or “you are too nervous so you dream about that”. While, scientists are performing some experiments to study what can dreams offer to help improve our memories.

Sleeping is helpful for brain to adopt new knowledge and as some research reveals, our brain never stop working even when we’re in sleep. Human brains are busy consolidating the memory of things happened in the day and also connecting the memories with the things we already know.

So how about dreams? How do dreams help us?

In the early time, researchers discovered that the hippocampus activities of experimenting mice during sleeping is very similar with that during in the labyrinth—it seems these little guys are recalling the scenarios of exploring the big labyrinth. Of course, this is just an educated guess since we won’t be able to wake a mouse and ask if he was dreaming about exploring labyrinth or eating cheese.

Hence, neuroscientists Erin Wamsley and Robert Stickgold found some better experiment subjects—undergraduates from Harvard University. The students were asked to sit in front of a computer and play an augmented reality labyrinth game for 45 minutes. The neuroscientists set certain point as the destination and the students started from random locations in the labyrinth, seeking for the way back to the destination. When the game was done, all the students were divided into two groups: one group went to sleep and the others left to watch the video records. The neuroscientists observed the brain activities of the “sleeping group “using electroencephalogram and woke them up once during their sleep. The students were asked about what they dreamt about.

The results were expected that in the second test, the “sleeping group” took less time the other group to find the target. A student in the “sleeping group” who dreamt about labyrinth was the best and was able to finish the game with a speed ten times faster than other group members.

So how do dreams help our memories?

Although the students reported that they dreamt about the images of labyrinth or heard the background music of the game, Stickgold noticed that their dreams were not the precise playback of their experiences. For example, one of the students not only dreamt about the images of the labyrinth, but also dreamt about his exploration experience in a bat cave several years ago. The dreams suggest that our brains are not trying to establish precise memory of everything, instead, our brains try to induce the new memories into the existed knowledge systems. Stickgold says, “It’s like when I run a labyrinth test again, my brain can direct me with my previous experiences.”

We all know that we are able to memorize thing just before or after sleeping, and that is because sleeping eliminates the effects of proactive and retroactive inhibition. This study indicates that dream is helpful in enhancing memories because it’s not only a reproduction of current experience, but also recalls similar previous experiences. Although the experiments need a lot to improve, it is a good start to develop the unlimited potential of human brains. Maybe dreams can never tell you fortune from evil in the future, but now it seems that August Kekulé worked out the formula of benzene ring because of dreaming about a small snake biting its own tail might not be just a beautiful legend.

The experiment results are amazing, but also lead to curiosity. Why some people dreamt about labyrinth while others didn’t? The neuron activities of those who dreamt about labyrinth have any difference with others? Is there any way to initiate the contents in dreams that need to be memorized? All these questions have to be solved one by one.

The experiment results are surprising, but the most delightful people are the lazy guys, who just got another good excuse to lie in.

Dream of improving memories? Go dreaming!