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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
Sleep - plus practice - makes perfect
A good night's sleep boosts ability
A good night's sleep boosts ability
A good night's sleep will help cement practical skills, such as playing a musical instrument or playing a sport in a person's memory, researchers suggest.

It is already known that sleep can help people retain factual and perceptual memories.

But this research indicates sleep also benefits motor skills.

Researchers from the University of Lubeck, Germany taught 52 people to perform a specific pattern of finger taps.


The consolidation of laying down our memories is very much what sleep is all about

Neil Stanley, British Sleep Society
They practised the sequence for 15 minutes before being allowed to sleep for eight hours, or remaining awake.

Those who slept performed the task about 33% faster and made 30% fewer mistakes than those who did not.

The pattern of results persisted into the following day when both groups had slept.

Researchers found it did not matter if the period of sleep took place at night or during the day, and the findings were specific to the task involved.

Sleep did not improve performance when participants were asked to repeat the same sequence backwards.

Perfecting performance

The research team, led by Dr Stefan Fischer, say sleep may be necessary to achieve the best possible performance of a motor skill, such as playing a musical instrument or performing a sport.

Sleeping after practising can improve skills, such as learning to play the cello
Sleeping after practising can improve skills, such as learning to play the cello
The researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that their findings demonstrated "an essential role of sleep in the formation of memory for motor skills".

"In generalising these observations to skills of every day life (such as learning a musical instrument or sport), we would conclude that sleep is required to achieve optimum performance on any of these skills."

Mr Neil Stanley, chairman of the British Sleep Society, told BBC News Online this study confirmed what animal studies had already shown.

"It's wrong to just view sleep as a waste of eight hours each night.

"There are things that do happen during sleep on a mental and physical level."

He added: "People are apt, the night before an exam to burn the midnight oil, when in actual fact they should be learning information - and then sleeping on it.

"The consolidation of laying down our memories is very much what sleep is all about - that's emotional memories as well as more practical things."

See also:

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