Scientific research on learning new vocabulary during deep sleep

on 04 February 2019
lay back, relax and change will happen thru hypnosis

Hypnotherapy and scientists working in a parallel way just with different ideas as to why something happens and why it sometimes doesn't. I have worked for years with a conviction that there was a scientific and neurological basis that explains how hypnosis happens in the brain, want to find out what. . . . 

Theres' more to sleep than meets the senses!

This piece of research is of such importance to the way I work and also in the formation of my beliefs as to why and how hypnosis actually works. Of course, it would strike a chord with you even more if you have been a previous client of mine!

I have long been seeking a scientific basis to explain why and how hypnosis works and it was upon discovering the research relating to PGO (Ponto-geniculo-occipital) waves that led to my current theory. PGO waves are specific brain waves that are most prevalent during sleep and feed into sleep cycles in varying and specific ways, mostly while we are in theta brainwave activity, where REM and NonREM phases of sleep are experienced. These are the phases of sleep where memories are consolidated and reconsolidated. Many of the issues that cause human suffering are ritual-like behaviours that are held in sensory-based memories and exposure to the intrinsic stimuli associated with a particular event arouses the memory of it, thus eliciting the unwanted behaviour.

I digress for a moment. Sensory stimuli are recorded in the brain at several points, some specifically relating to their sensory modality, e.g. sight, sound, taste, touch and smell and then collated at certain convergence areas. Of those, sight is the most prolific. Think of your best friend and all the things you know about them, some will be linguistically descriptive and stimulate language, which is both, sight and auditory or they may like a particular scent, stimulating olfaction or you may recall a special meal you had with them and stimulate the gustatory sense, touch could be stimulated by observing someone who looks like them embrace. To explain this in more detail, I often cite a convergence zone as the editor and the 5 senses as his journalists. She sends them out on an assignment and sight writes what it sees, sound what it hears etc. etc. they hand in their assignment and the editor comes up with the finished article and hands each a copy. Now sight knows what sound is heard, smell smelt or touch felt but it lacks the full emotion of the other senses. In our world, it is when we are exposed to one, two, three or more of these sensory stimuli that emotion emerges, the more the sensory stimuli, the more likely there is to be a stronger emotional reaction!

In an anxiety disorder, the brain faithfully records all the sensory stimuli and with the help of the threat detection system (amygdala, BNST, hypothalamus and more) and sufficient sensory exposure, the fear response will surface, sometimes as a precursor towards avoiding the sensory experience. That explains why someone with a fear of flying, starts to become anxious about booking a flight or packing for the journey. In essence, the brain has a pre-treat early warning system, which is better known as avoidance.

So, back to the PGO waves. In hypnotherapy, the client's issue is discussed at length and some alternative proposals are put forward, some questions are asked, questions that I sometimes know the client could not possibly know the answer to. Why you may ask? The reason is that the answer that the question solicits is subconsciously driven and not within their conscious remit. In part, the question is to test their opinion/view and also to pose a question to the subconscious brain/mind that, if relevant, can be used during hypnosis. By way of an explanation, I paint a picture of a little man in the back of their mind, who is tasked with deciding what, of that day's learning is to be kept (memorised) and what is to be discarded. This is a very simplistic view of the memory consolidation process. In hypnosis, the little man is sent for a break, giving the hypnotherapist the ability to choose what goes into the memory banks (new memories/behaviours), which memories can safely be reconsolidated (changed) and further suggestions that will bring about the outcome of the therapy (the therapeutic intervention).

The research below gives a scientific take on my long-held beliefs, evidentially supported through the testimony of many clients. It also adds a positive valence to why clients have found value in the recording I have produced (with a recommendation to listen during sleep), which has more gravity in therapy when used as an adjunct to their sessions, as opposed to a post-therapy method. But both can work if they are used with regularity  

James Braid had misgivings about his new discovery, hypnosis (named after Hypnos the God of sleep), thinking later, that it was not a state of sleep he tried to rename it monoideism but I guess hypnosis was a little more catchy? Little did he know that he was more accurate than he could ever have imagined, because, the sleep-like states of the brain, relevant to sleep and hypnosis are actually where the changes that occur through hypnosis occur! It is also most likely to be the case, that these same processes are what form the memories that relate to a disorder. In that, the fear encounter is later consolidated into memory while we sleep?

So, if you have new things to learn or old things to unlearn, hypnosis may just be what you need? To find out more, please visit the links below to make an appointment for a free consultation or just to have a chat about what is of concern.

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little sleep and too little by way of clarity! So, to get or take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious mind's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to make your life feel better,  then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here or to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Sleeping time is sometimes considered unproductive time. This raises the question of whether the time spent asleep could be used more productively -- e.g. for learning a new language? To date sleep research focused on the stabilization and strengthening (consolidation) of memories that had been formed during the preceding wakefulness. However, learning during sleep has rarely been examined. There is considerable evidence for wake-learned information undergoing a recapitulation by replay in the sleeping brain. The replay during sleep strengthens the still fragile memory traces and embeds the newly acquired information in the preexisting store of knowledge.

If re-play during sleep improves the storage of wake-learned information, then first-play -- i.e., the initial processing of new information -- should also be feasible during sleep, potentially carving out a memory trace that lasts into wakefulness. This was the research question of Katharina Henke, Marc Züst und Simon Ruch of the Institute of Psychology and of the Interfaculty Research Cooperation "Decoding Sleep" at the University of Bern, Switzerland. These investigators now showed for the first time that new foreign words and their translation words could be associated during a midday nap with associations stored into wakefulness. Following waking, participants could reactivate the sleep-formed associations to access word meanings when represented with the formerly sleep-played foreign words. The hippocampus, a brain structure essential for wake associative learning, also supported the retrieval of sleep-formed associations. The results of this experiment are published open access in the scientific journal Current Biology.

The brain cells' active states are central to sleep-learning

The research group of Katharina Henke examined whether a sleeping person is able to form new semantic associations between played foreign words and translation words during the brain cells' active states, the so-called "Up-states." When we reach deep sleep stages, our brain cells progressively coordinate their activity. During deep sleep, the brain cells are commonly active for a brief period of time before they jointly enter into a state of brief inactivity. The active state is called "Up-state" and the inactive state "Down-state." The two states alternate about every half-second.

Semantic associations between sleep-played words of an artificial language and their German translations words were only encoded and stored if, the second word of a pair was repeatedly (2, 3 or 4 times) played during an Up-state. E.g., when a sleeping person heard the word pairs "tofer = key" and "guga = elephant," then after waking they were able to categorize with a better-than-chance accuracy whether the sleep-played foreign words denominated something large ("Guga") or small ("Tofer"). "It was interesting that language areas of the brain and the hippocampus -- the brain's essential memory hub -- were activated during the wake retrieval of sleep-learned vocabulary because these brain structures normally mediate wake learning of new vocabulary," says Marc Züst, co-first-author of this paper. "These brain structures appear to mediate memory formation independently of the prevailing state of consciousness -- unconscious during deep sleep, conscious during wakefulness."

Memory formation does not require consciousness

Besides its practical relevance, this new evidence for sleep-learning challenges current theories of sleep and theories of memory. The notion of sleep as an encapsulated mental state, in which we are detached from the physical environment is no longer tenable. "We could disprove that sophisticated learning is impossible during deep sleep," says Simon Ruch, co-first-author. The current results underscore a new theoretical notion of the relationship between memory and consciousness that Katharina Henke published in 2010 (Nature Reviews Neuroscience). "In how far and with what consequences deep sleep can be utilized for the acquisition of new information will be a topic of research in upcoming years," says Katharina Henke.

Decoding sleep

The research group of Katharina Henke is part of the Interfaculty Research Cooperation "Decoding Sleep: From Neurons to Health & Mind" (IRC). Decoding Sleep is a large, interdisciplinary research project that is financed by the University of Bern, Switzerland. Thirteen research groups in medicine, biology, psychology, and informatics are part of the IRC. The aim of these research groups is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in sleep, consciousness, and cognition.

The reported study was carried out in collaboration with Roland Wiest who is affiliated with the Support Center for Advanced Neuroimaging (SCAN) at the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology, Inselspital, University of Bern. Both research groups also belong to the BENESCO consortium, which consists of 22 interdisciplinary research groups specialized in sleep medicine, epilepsy and research on altered states of consciousness.

Story Source:

Materials provided by the University of BernNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Marc Alain Züst, Simon Ruch, Roland Wiest, and Katharina Henke. Implicit Vocabulary Learning during Sleep Is Bound to Slow-Wave PeaksCurrent Biology, 2019 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.12.038

Cite This Page:

The University of Bern. "Learning new vocabulary during deep sleep." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 January 2019. <>.