Good night's sleep important to master a new skill

Monday, August 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Get a good night's sleep after piano practice: It may prove crucial to learning new skills such as tickling the ivories.

Scientists have long known that adequate sleep is important for forming different types of memories. People can do better on a test with proper rest than by pulling an all-nighter, for example.

But learning motor skills involves a different part of the brain, and often a lot more practice, than memorizing facts. Is sleep important for that, too? Very, German scientists report.

Scientists at the University of Lubeck taught healthy young students different finger-tapping sequences, and then either let them sleep or kept them awake for eight hours. When they were re-tested, the rested students performed the tapping sequence 35 percent faster and made 30 percent fewer errors than the sleepy students.

It wasn't that the sleepy students were too tired to physically perform: The difference persisted a day later after both groups got a full night's sleep.

That suggests sleep is important for the brain to properly store the memories of the training ``only within a critical time frame,'' the scientists report in Tuesday's edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The latest study echoes Harvard Medical School research, reported in the journal Neuron last month. Those scientists taught groups of people a sequence of keys to type on a keyboard, and found those taught in the evening and re-tested after a good night's sleep did far better than those taught in the morning and tested 12 hours later before they went to sleep.

The two studies show adequate sleep is important to learning skills from playing a musical instrument to mastering a sport, the German scientists concluded.