A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
Remember when you were a kid, and you were studying for some godawful French test, and you wished you could just get in your jammie jams, tuck yourself into bed, slip your “Learn French in Six Weeks!” cassette tape into your Walkman? You know, hit play as you drifted off into REM sleep where you would dream of mimes and cigarettes and Tin Tin and Impressionist art and eating a baguette in black and white while a mustachioed man leered at you from behind a giant tray of chocolate croissants? And then when you awoke in the morning, you’d not only be refreshed – and slightly confused as to the symbolism your subconscious presented you – but you’d be fluent in Français and ready to ace that exam as though you’d grown up on the Left Bank.
Well, that’s still not possible. But – sort of.
Researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study that did prove that we can, in fact, learn in our sleep. Participants studied two different musical sequences, then took a nappy nap, during which one of the sequences was played again once they hit REM. Before the nap, each participant played the sequences roughly equally well. But when they awoke, they all played the one which was repeated while they slept noticeably better.
And, as the CNN.com article which reported this study pointed out, they hadn’t just memorized the notes in order correctly. They were actually performing them correctly. Translation: it’s almost as though they’d been practicing.
So, kids, the next time your mom is all, “wake up! You have to practice your piano roarroarglarb!” You can just be like, “I am. I’m going to take a nap while I listen to Beethoven.” And then show her this article and the one which I’ve referenced which is way more sciencey, and she’ll be totally impressed. If only I’d known about this when I was a young pup, I might not have utterly failed at my attempts to learn the following instruments: piano, violin, flute, guitar, voice. Perhaps if I hadn’t been such a sleep-deprived kid hellbent on undermining and demolishing all efforts bedtime-related, I’d have discovered that I’m some sort of virtuoso. Is it too late to be a virtuoso at (almost) thirty? What’s the statute of limitations on a thing like that? I’m so good at napping, this may be easier than I thought.
I’m eagerly anticipating the follow-up study to this one, which substitutes musical sequences for mind-numbing geology lessons. If it works, I’d like a do-over on my Freshman year final. I think I can really nail it this time.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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