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You probably won't gain any IQ points, but you really can learn while you sleep, and in more than one way...

You might recall that years ago that there were "sleep learning products" being sold. The basic idea was that if you listened to recordings of things while you slept you could absorb what you heard and integrate it into your knowledge. Thus you might listen to language recordings to learn a new language as you slept. But did it work?

The research done so far says no, you can't really learn from recordings while sleeping. It is possible that people who had some "success" with this technique learned things as they fell asleep and while waking up, but probably not while actually sleeping. That kind of learning is just too complex and it seems it requires consciousness.

However, there have been some studies which show that some forms of learning during sleep are possible. For example, a couple years ago Israeli researchers discovered that we can learn simple associations while sleeping. Their research showed something else that was very interesting as well. Apparently we learn best while in the REM (dreaming) phase of sleep, but are only able to use those things learned while sleeping. In order to transfer what we learn while sleeping, the learning has to be done in the non-REM phase.

Inception is Real?

You may recall the movie "Inception," in which people trained themselves to have lucid dreams and even enter the dreams of others. Well that last part is still fiction, but lucid dreaming itself has been around for a while. I have had these "conscious" dreams, where I was aware that I was in a dream and therefore able to direct the action.

Most people can be trained to have lucid dreams, and it might be easier than previously thought to induce them. Research done at Harvard University found that even inexperienced dreamers would have lucid dreams most of the time if they were "zapped" with an electrical current. The specific frequency used was 40 hertz.

Other research into this lucid dreaming state seems to contradict the conclusion that we cannot learn more complex things while sleeping. Yale University research shows that people can actually learn new skills while asleep, if they are learned during lucid dreams. The researchers plan to try training people during sleep, by telling them what to dream about. You can bet I'll report on that research if it produces anything useful.

This is not mere speculation. A study at the University of Bern in Switzerland had people practice throwing a coin into a cup during their lucid dreams. It was found that after some of this "dream practice" they actually were better throwing a coin into a cup while awake.

One Swiss study, led by Daniel Erlacher of the University of Bern, showed that lucid dreamers who 'practiced throwing a coin into a cup were better at the real thing when they woke up.

Richard Wiseman created a dream shaping app to see if he could influence people's dreams. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next few years we see "dream training" systems marketed to sports teams and others. Of course for purposes of profit the technology usually charges on ahead of and in ignorance of the science, so stick to doing your own inexpensive dream learning experiments at home for a while.