Learning during sleep has been a dream of many people for a long time. And even though some tried to learn Spanish, Chinese, or some other language by listening to lessons during sleep, they quickly found out that this method was not really useful. Even though sleep is essential for learning, it can not replace the learning effort.
However, a new study from the University of Freiburg shows it could be possible to optimize sleep and achieve more efficient learning.
The team of researchers wanted to assess the importance of odor cues during learning, sleep, and testing, on memory formation in school children. Some previous studies performed in laboratory conditions showed that odors could be a potent stimulus for memory consolidation during sleep. However, this new study wanted to explore how this hypothesis would hold in everyday conditions.
The study was conducted in 6th-grade healthy German students in their home and school environment. To see how odor impacts learning English vocabulary, researchers used rose scent as an odor cue. They divided the students into four groups
- The control group didn’t receive any intervention.
- The second group had a rose scent present while they were studying and sleeping.
- The third group had a rose scent present while learning and taking a test.
- The final group had a rose scent present while learning, sleeping, and taking a test.
The results surprisingly showed that the students remembered vocabulary much better with a rose scent. In fact, the students who were exposed to rose scent during learning and sleep showed a 30% increase in learning success compared to the control group. There was no difference between the second group where the fragrance wasn’t present during testing and the last group where it was present during all three phases. The researchers published these findings in the Nature Group’s Open Access journal Scientific Reports.
These findings suggest that a simple fragrance stick could be used for improving learning efficiency. It highlights the importance of odor cues in memory acquisition and consolidation. And if something so simple could be this efficient, everybody could boost their learning ability with ease.
However, there are a few limitations to this study. The participating students went to two different schools, meaning different teachers, classes, and tests. That could very well be a reason for some of the result differences. Also, there was no control over other environmental factors. Students were responsible for studying, and the use of scented sticks and their reports may not reflect these parameters objectively. That is why scientists perform these experiments in a lab, where they can control all the factors, but this study provides valuable insights nevertheless.
This could be a significant step towards making learning more efficient and improving the effect of sleep on memory formation.