Sleep Helps the Brain with Visual Tasks, Study Finds

By Lisa Franchi on November 14, 2013

Scientific evidence on the value of sleep to human health is piling up. Now, research from Brown University revealed that sleep also amps brainwaves that aid in visual learning.

15 volunteers in the study were assigned to perform a visual task which involved identifying carets and diagonal lines among a set of horizontal lines, before and after sleep. At the same time, the researchers measured the subjects’ brain activities using a number of imaging technologies like the magnetic and electronic encephalography, magnetic resonance imaging and polysomnography.

Sleep Spindles

They found an increase in the sigma brainwave power after the participants had slept. Such increase, scientists explained, is associated with learning the visual task by purposely putting elements of the visual learning task in a certain part of the participants’ field of vision. This part of vision is linked to the visual cortical area in the brain.

Their study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California, USA, supports earlier research published in the Journal of Neuroscience which found that that two specific frequencies, fast-sigma and delta, that operate in the supplementary motor area of the brain, were directly associated with learning a finger-tapping task akin to typing or playing the piano.

“Perceptual learning in general has been found to improve the visual ability of patients who have some decline of function due to aging,” says lead author Takeo Watanabe, professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences.

“The repeated significance of sigma oscillations, known as sleep spindles, in both the visual task and the motor task may be important in figuring out a broader picture of how the brain consolidates learning during sleep”, the researchers wrote. “So far we are thinking that the sigma band is used commonly during learning-related jobs, but not necessarily the delta bands,” said Yuka Sasaki, associate professor (research) of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences.

Source of this article:

How Sleep Helps Visual Learning In The Brain

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