Sleep is thought to play a role in consolidation of new memories. However, how exactly does sleep facilitate learning, which stages of sleep are involved, and whether there may be different styles of learning, are still open questions. Because our brains are plastic—change with practice of specific skills—we decided to test a hypothesis that meditation practitioners learn differently than non-meditators, and that these changes can be tracked in electrophysiological brain activity in sleep. Specifically, we predicted that because meditators learn to pay attention to their physical sensations, they might become more aware of the usually unconscious, implicit learning of a motor task. Vipassana meditators and non-meditating controls learned a procedural balance task took a nap at the laboratory. Participants performed on a task before and after sleep. Meditators were slightly better than controls in initial learning, but both groups improved in a similar manner after the nap. We found significant differences in the sleep correlates with the improvement on the task between the two groups, suggesting that meditation practice focused on becoming aware of one’s body sensations may produce large-scale changes in how information is processed by the brain, including in sleep.

Elizaveta Solomonova, PhD

McGill University

Grantee

Elizaveta Solomonova is an interdisciplinary scientist of the mind, working at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and the arts. Her main research interest is the neurophenomenology of conscious experiences … MORE

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