A grain of truth is often to be found in age-old remedies, with science often proving concepts and advice that our forefathers have been using for centuries. When faced with a dilemma, how many times have we been advised to "sleep on it" in the hope that the right solution will come to us while we slumber?
It seems that science has now proved that this sage advice also has a basis in truth, according to the results of a recent study conducted by researchers at École normale supérieure in Paris.
The study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, explored activity in the brains of sleeping subjects, and discovered that they continued to process and respond to complex information even when in a deep sleep.Our common belief is that we "switch off" during sleep and are oblivious to external stimuli; certainly the areas of the brain that are activated when we need to pay attention to instructions or complete tasks are deactivated, and we are generally in a recumbent physical state; however, the study aimed to determine whether any brain activity continued after sleep if subjects had been given a task to process shortly before they slept.
"Of course, when asleep, participants stopped pressing buttons," study authors Thomas Andrillon and Sid Kouider explained in an article written for The Washington Post."So in order to check whether their brains were still responding to the words, we looked at the activity in the motor areas of the brain.
"Planning to press a button on your left involves your right hemisphere and vice-versa.," they continued. "By looking at the lateralization of brain activity in motor areas, it is possible to see whether someone is preparing a response and toward which side.
"Applying this method to our sleepers allowed us to show that even during sleep, their brains continued to routinely prepare for right and left responses according to the meaning of the words they were hearing."
The authors described how, despite their brains’ apparent responses, the participants had no recollection of the information they had processed during their sleep, but did recall the information they had absorbed whilst conscious. This suggests that the ability for our brains to process complex data does not rely on conscious effort.
Andrillon, a PhD Student at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris, and Kouider, a senior research scientist at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris, are excited about their findings, which suggest that further research may needed in order to establish the brain’s ability to process complicated information not merely whilst asleep but also when unconscious. They are keen to discover whether more complex forms of unconscious learning could take place during our slumber, and whether this would compromise brain and body function.
They caution, however, that the study was not intended as a gateway to further explore and develop the possibility of actively attempting to absorb new information during our sleep, such as the type of unconscious brain "downloads" depicted in the sci-fi film, "The Matrix." The scientists emphasised that sleep is a vital bodily function and crucial for optimum brain and body performance, and should remain a restful experience. They do believe, however, that sleep offers us an unconscious opportunity to consolidate learned information without the conscious brain kicking in and affecting the way the information is processed.
The seemingly limitless potential of our brains is constantly being revealed, and it is certain that, despite our incredible scientific advances, we still have only a basic knowledge of their full capabilities. Check out this week’s Dreamland in which Anne Strieber chats with channeler JZ Knight, explaining how her brain tumor has shut down her left brain, but given her creative right brain new freedom.