It’s been known for some time that sleep plays a part in memory consolidation, but new research indicates that it is more effective at consolidating memories that you care about.
The new research, conducted in Wales, gathered 80 non-Welsh speakers and taught them words in the language. Participants were tasked with recalling the words immediately and then 12 hours later, either with no sleep or at least six hours sleep in between. They found that subjects who learned the words earlier in the day had more trouble recalling them later than those who learned them late in the day and then slept.
Their secondary finding was surprising, however. The scientists discovered that people in the sleep group who placed a higher value on learning the words were more likely to remember them.
Prof Mark Blagrove, who conducted the research with colleague Elaine van Rijn from Swansea University, told the BBC:
“The mere fact that your beliefs about something seem to affect how the brain processes things during the night is really quite astounding.”
In the sleep group, the scientists noted a correlation between those who valued the language and their ability to recall the words. There was no such correlation in the wake group.