A few months ago, I mentioned a few ways that indicate to me and my students that we are getting the job done. Students are invariably surprised and excited when they experience these markers themselves. Sometime in the first couple of weeks of each term, a student will announce, “Dr. D, I dreamed about this stuff all night!” Soon, other students discover that A&P is truly the stuff of which dreams are made, and classmates share the often bizarre variations of their slumber studies.
In this week’s edition of The Brilliant Report, Annie Murphy Paul discusses the relationship between learning and dreaming, citing several studies that suggest brain mechanisms for solidifying newly-learned concepts during dreaming. She writes:
“While our bodies are at rest, scientists theorize, our brains are extracting what’s important from the information and events we’ve recently encountered, then integrating that data into the vast store of what we already know—perhaps explaining why dreams are such an odd mixture of fresh experiences and old memories. A dream about something we’ve just learned seems to be a sign that the new knowledge has been processed effectively. In a 2010 study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers at Harvard Medical School reported that college students who dreamed about a computer maze task they had learned showed a 10-fold improvement in their ability to navigate the maze compared to participants who did not dream about the task.”
Apparently dreaming helps to make learning an achievable challenge. Maybe we need to keep urging our students to finish their studying and get to bed at a decent hour…easier said than done.
Those of us holding the laser pointer are often plagued by a different dream, frequently declared to be the most common nightmare among professional people. Dr. Judy Willis vividly described “The Dream” in a post in Psychology Today:
“This is the dream where it is the day of a final exam, and you realize that you forgot you were taking the course and therefore had not attended any of the classes, did not do the reading, and you are certainly are not prepared for today’s test. Other variations include your having attended some of the classes, perhaps at the beginning of the semester, and then you just forgot about the class until the day of the final. It was not intentional, but somehow just happened.”
Dr. Willis offers variations on the dream and possible reasons for its troubling recurrence. As for me, I lost a set of keys a couple of weeks ago. Virtually every night since then, I’ve had a vivid dream of finding them in some improbable location. Each morning, I check the weird place the dream suggested, because you never know, right? So far, no luck. But maybe tonight’s the night. I’m glad my brain is still working on it.