Taking breaks 'may help people learn a new skill more quickly'

·2-min read

Scientists believe that taking short breaks could help you learn a new skill more quickly.

Researchers looked at the brain activity involved when a person attempts to do something for the first time, such as learning the words to a song or playing a musical instrument.

Data showed that allowing the study participants to take a quick rest during the learning process allowed them to perform the activity better in subsequent sessions.

"Our results support the idea that wakeful rest plays just as important a role as practice in learning a new skill. It appears to be the period when our brains compress and consolidate memories of what we just practiced," said Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., senior investigator at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and senior author of the study. "Understanding this role of neural replay may not only help shape how we learn new skills but also how we help patients recover skills lost after neurological injury like stroke."

The study, which analysed a group of 33 right-handed healthy volunteers, was carried out by the National Institutes of Health and used a sensitive scanning technique called magnetoencephalography to record brain activity.

Participants were asked to learn to type a five-digit code with their left hand, then type it out as many times as possible for 10 seconds before taking a 10-second rest. This alternating cycle of practice followed by a break was repeated 35 times, with volunteers showing a dramatic improvement in speed during the first few attempts. This increase typically wore off by the 11th session.

Scientists also found that the improvement was most significant after a night's sleep and are hopeful the findings may prove useful in the recovery of stroke patients.

"Overall, our results support the idea that manipulating replay activity during waking rest may be a powerful tool that researchers can use to help individuals learn new skills faster and possibly facilitate rehabilitation from stroke," Cohen added.

The study was published in Cell Reports.

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