Dream and Learn

Green maze seen from above

Whoa, I’m flying! Or…is it just a dream?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Dreams can be so bizarre and fun. One minute you’re back in kindergarten, the next you’re floating in outer space! But WHY do we dream?

Enter Erin Wamsley and colleagues from Furman University – let’s visit dreamland with them!

Almost forty volunteers played a video game to explore a maze and find its exit. Then, they went lights-out in the lab! Throughout the night, researchers woke the sleepers up repeatedly to ask about their dreams. Talk about a good night’s sleep!

In the morning, the subjects were tested – could they find their way out of the maze?

Some reported seeing images related to the maze in their dreams. Those who DID? Found the exit over THREE MINUTES faster than before! The non-maze-dreamers did NOT improve on finding the exit.

Wamsley believes that dreaming means our brains are processing what we’ve learned. Dreaming about a task can help us DO that task better in real life!

Great – maybe I can dream about those new tax codes tonight!

Reference: Wamsley, E. J., & Stickgold, R. (2019). Dreaming of a learning task is associated with enhanced memory consolidation: Replication in an overnight sleep study. Journal of sleep research, 28(1), e12749. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12749