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"Task Master" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at Brown University have pinpointed the brainwave frequencies and brain region associated with sleep-enhanced learning of a sequential finger tapping task akin to typing, or playing piano.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

"Tapping" in to the sleeping brain

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: simple melody played on a piano, as if by a beginner) You take your piano lesson, go to sleep, wake up, and "presto" your fingers are better able to play that "beautiful" sequence of notes. New research from brown university sheds light on how sleep helps your brain learn motor tasks.

For three nights, fifteen study participants came to a sleep lab and slept normally. (As normal as could be; in a lab wearing a cap covered with sensors.) Brain wave oscillation and sleep phase were monitored to get baseline measurements. On the fourth day, subjects were assigned the task of learning a sequence of finger taps (similar to typing or playing a piano). Some, of the group were then allowed to sleep for three hours, monitored, awakened, and asked to perform the task an hour later. Other group members refrained from sleep for the four hours, then, gave it a try.

(Sound effect: sound of tapping) Those who slept executed the task faster and more accurately. The researchers found that most of the sleep brainwave oscillation changes occurred in the supplementary motor area on the opposite side of the participants' trained hand. Subjects who showed the strongest changes also showed the most improvement on the task.

To think, all that complex activity going on (Sound effect: lullaby) while I drool on my pillow.

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