Robust learning requires substantial effort. Our recent studies, conducted in a sleep laboratory as well as in typical home environments, have showed that sleep contributes to learning. Indeed, sleep is important for solidifying memories of various types. By extension, in a contemplative practice when people strive to develop enduring prosocial qualities, such as compassion, kindness, and empathy, their success may depend on the extent to which sleep is engaged to reinforce their learning. Our proposed research builds on a foundation of empirical evidence about memory modification during sleep to provide new insights into how the sleeping mind is relevant to prosocial learning. To probe this sleep-based processing, we present unobtrusive sound cues that permeate sleep to reinforce prosocial learning that had been cultivated during meditation. Whereas good habits cannot be instilled without considerable practice, we hypothesize that fully embracing PEACE-related qualities requires both repeated practice when awake and repeated memory reactivation during sleep. Our goal is to empirically test our prediction that sleep contributes to promoting prosocial benefits of contemplative practice. Our efforts to understand how memory processing during sleep helps produce positive change will open up new avenues for understanding the benefits of contemplative practice.

Ken Paller

Northwestern University