Dr. Stickgold's Sleep Experiment
(The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience March 2000.)
To explore the link between learning and sleep, the researchers trained Harvard undergraduates to spot visual targets on a computer screen and to press a button as soon as they were certain they had seen one. At first, it might take 400 milliseconds for a target to reach the students' conscious awareness, Dr. Stickgold said. But with an hour or so of practice they could reliably see the targets much faster. For example, at the end of training a student might accurately press a button in 75 milliseconds. Students who are trained to do this task and are retested from 3 to 12 hours later on the same day show absolutely no improvement in speed beyond their best time at the end of training, Dr. Stickgold said. And the students who sleep six hours or less after training also show no improvement when they perform the same task the next day. Only those who sleep more than six hours seem to improve. For example, someone whose best time was 75 milliseconds at the end of training might, after a good night's sleep, reliably perform the task in 62 milliseconds.
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