Sleep can help improve the learning of a sequence of finger movements, reports a study published online in Nature Neuroscience. These findings underline the importance of sleep for memory, and raise the possibility of selectively inducing improvements in memory during sleep.
Ken Paller and colleagues had participants learn how to play two different musical tunes with key presses. Following this, the participants took a brief nap of about 90 minutes, during which time they heard one of the musical tunes they practiced while awake, but not the other. By using EEG to record the brain's electrical activity, the team ensured that participants heard these musical 'cues' during slow wave sleep, which has previously been linked to cementing memories. They subsequently found that individuals made fewer errors in pressing the keys for the melody they heard while asleep, compared to the melody they didn't hear during their nap.
These results suggest that auditory cues during sleep can selectively strengthen complex motor skills associated with the cue, underlining the importance of sleep for improving memory.