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To Learn More, Don’t Study Harder — Take a Nap

Mario Tama, Getty Images

While dreams are still largely a mystery, some scientists now believe they may actually help us learn.

Researchers think that dreaming about a task we’ve learned is associated with improved performance in that activity later on. They also think dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing and retaining what we’ve already learned.

It seems that as we sleep, our brains extract important data from the information and events we’ve recently encountered, and then integrate that data into the vast store of what we already know — which could be why dreams are often a surreal mix of old memories and new experiences.

All of this activity could have a great impact on learning. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that college students who dreamed about a computer maze task they had learned showed a 10-fold improvement in their ability to navigate the maze compared to participants who did not dream about the task.

Want to harness that kind of sleep-related brain power? Try studying right before bedtime, or take a nap after a study session in the afternoon — both could increase the odds of dreaming about whatever it is you’re trying to learn.


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