The role of sleep in helping the brain to consolidate memories and learn new tasks has been highlighted in an innovative new US study using birds. The University of Chicago research looked at the ability of starlings to learn a pair of new songs, then a further two songs later on. The consolidation of memory relating to the songs was then assessed, both before and after period of sleep.
It was found that during daytime sessions where the birds were awake during the learning of both sets of songs, the ability to remember the first pair of songs was reduced through what the researchers described as ‘interference’ as more and more information was taken on. When the birds were allowed to sleep however, the learning ability improved for both sets of songs.
The study backs up earlier research that identifies sleep as a key time for memory consolidation and general learning.
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