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You can learn a language while you sleep, says new study

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It's a universal feeling that there are not enough hours in the day. How are we ever meant to find the time to learn a language, when most of us get only six-and-a-half hours sleep?

But what if you could learn while you were sleeping?

New research by the Universities of Zurich and Fribourg has found that listening to recordings of new material while asleep may help you learn it.

In the study published in the Cerebral Cortex Oxford Journal a group of 60 German-speaking volunteers were asked to learn pairs of words in Dutch at 10pm.

The group then went to sleep while recordings of the words were played back to them in a low volume. Meanwhile, a second group, that also studied the same pairs of Dutch words, stayed awake during the recorded playback.

The sleeping group were awoken at 2am and both groups were put to the test to see who remembered the most words.

Researchers found the sleeping group performed significantly better than the group that stayed awake.

Study authors Thomas Schreiner and Björn Rasch say the results provide evidence that sleep activates freshly learned material.

In a previous study, Rasch applied the same test to scent, where subjects were asked to learn memory cards according to the scent of rose. The group who slept once again performed better on the test than those who stayed awake while exposed to the scent.

"Our method is easy to use in daily life and can be adopted by anyone," says Rasch, study director and biopsychologist.

So does this mean we can sleep and fulfill our lifelong dream of learning French?

Unfortunately, the method only works once you've memorised the material before sleeping.

"You can only successfully activate words that you have learned before you go to sleep," says Schreiner. "Playing back words you don't know while you're asleep has no effect."

Even still, any evidence that proves sleeping is good for you is good with us.

(Words: Sejal Kapadia, Images: Rex Features)

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