Home mental fitness Taking Short Breaks Improves the Ability to Learn New Skills: A New Study on Wakeful Rest

Taking Short Breaks Improves the Ability to Learn New Skills: A New Study on Wakeful Rest

by Marianne Navada
neural replay skills

NIH scientists mapped out brain activity when we are learning a new skill. The researchers found that during rest time, brains “replay faster versions of the activity” we are learning. Referred to as neural replay, our brains, during rest, project patterns similar to when we are actually practicing or learning. The more our brains replay the activity during rest, the better we perform. 

The study shows us that constantly practicing doesn’t always lead to better results. Sometimes, we need to understand when to push through or maybe take a break.

Previous studies on neural replay focused on sleep. Brain activity shows that during sleep, we process “facts, events, and skills learned during the day”. During sleep, we continue to “process information” and “consolidate memory”. Research on this subject looked at activity in the hippocampus. This is a part of our brain that plays a major role in learning and memory.

The recent study shows that during “wakeful rest”, we experience similar brain activity. Moreover, the new study reveals that our sensorimotor cortex, the part of the brain that deals with voluntary movement, actively communicates with the hippocampus during rest. 

The challenge now is to figure out how to activate neural replay consciously. There are promising studies on using odor and auditory cues to enhance neural replay. 

More About the Study 

Conducted in the NIH Clinical Center, the study measured brain waves, using magnetoencephalography. This process is considered a “highly sensitive scaling technique” to record brain waves.

The study included 33 participants.

To test skill, memory, and performance, right-handed subjects were asked to learn how to type a 5-digit code with their left hand. 

During the early stages of the learning trial, the subjects had more neural replays than during the later part of the learning process. 

“The subjects whose brains replayed the typing activity more often showed greater jumps in performance after each trial than those who replayed it less often.”

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