Sleep is essential for memory, including learning motor skills after practicing them. But sleep--and when that sleep takes place--may also enhance memory of motor skills that are learned just through observation, according to a new study. The findings could have implications for children, athletes, and those who have to relearn basic skills after suffering an injury or stroke.
Researchers showed a video of a hand performing parallel finger tapping tests to 64 people. The study participants were later asked to perform the same sequence of the task or a different one. Participants who slept within 12 hours of the observation improved the speed and accuracy of their finger tapping skills. No improvements were noted if the participants slept more than 12 hours after the initial observation. And, practicing the movements wasn't required to improve skills.
In the study, the authors wrote, "These results could have implications for (re)learning movements in cases where practice is difficult or impossible, as in children, during rehabilitation following stroke or fractures, or in complex skill acquisition in, for example, sports or surgical techniques. An important recommendation in such circumstances would be to perform the observation just before sleep onset."
The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo credit: Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times