It seems sleep improves our ability to learn words (and presumably other things). An article in Science Daily says:

Scientists at the University of Chicago have demonstrated that sleeping has an important and previously unrecognized impact on improving people’s ability to learn language.

Researchers find that ability of students to retain knowledge about words is improved by sleep, even when the students seemed to forget some of what they learned during the day before the next night’s sleep. This paper, “Consolidation During Sleep of Perceptual Learning of Spoken Language,” is being published in the Thursday, Oct. 9 issue of the journal Nature. The paper was prepared by researcher Kimberly Fenn, Howard Nusbaum, Professor of Psychology, and Daniel Margoliash, Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy.

“Sleep has at least two separate effects on learning,” the authors write. “Sleep consolidates memories, protecting them against subsequent interference or decay. Sleep also appears to ‘recover’ or restore memories.” […]

Although the study dealt specifically with word learning, the findings may be relevant to other learning, Nusbaum said. “We have known that people learn better if they learn smaller bits of information over a period of days rather than all at once. This research could show how sleep helps us retain what we learn.”



  1. Now that’s interesting! Thank God, I love sleeping.

  2. When I was in high school, I was told to study my French lessons briefly before going to sleep for the night. I used to record vocabulary and verb conjugations on tape and play them as I nodded off. I was told not to spend too much time on it. Twenty minutes to a half hour at the most. More time than that wouldn’t be effective. That helped me to not only remember but to understand the language much better. I also used the same technique for drama class and class plays. I’d cue lines right before going to bed. I also taped monologues and played them before going to sleep. Worked like a charm. That was over thirty years ago. I’m glad science finally caught up with my high school teachers. 🙂

  3. Thanks for posting this, LH (and for your comment too, Trish). I’ve been wondering about the most efficient method of learning kanji and vocabulary.
    It’s interesting, in the light of Trish’s experience, that the experiment suggests it doesn’t matter whether or not the learning takes place in the morning or the evening — the important factor appeared to be having a night’s sleep between learning and testing.
    As regards the time spent studying, I’d have assumed that the longer one spent, the better the results. But the advice to spend only twenty minutes to half an hour makes good sense. Perhaps the ideal might be to spend 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning AND at night before going to bed.
    Now it’s time for bed where I am. And, like Lea, I love sleeping too. (I just need to increase the proportion of dreams I have in Japanese.)

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