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Scientists Say a Short Break Helps the Brain Learn New Skills

by Derrick Smith
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When you are learning new skills, do you practice for a long time without rest? This may be a wrong approach. A study published in the  journal Cell Reports shows that a short break helps the brain learn new skills!


Research shows that the brain replays the practice during rest. (Photo via Unsplash)

Bethesda, MD (Merxwire) – “Know how to rest, work efficiency will be better.” Have you ever heard this sentence? It has been confirmed in many experiments that employees who have three days off each week have higher productivity; taking a proper rest at work can gain more efficiency. Scientists have been studying how people can learn new skills more effectively, and current research shows that the efficiency of learning skills is also related to rest.

The research was led by Leonardo G. Cohen, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The research team found 33 right-handed subjects, asked them to use their left hand to press the keys, continuously input the number “41234” within 10 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds. The whole procedure was repeated 35 times while monitoring Changes in the subject’s brain waves.

“We wanted to explore the mechanisms behind memory strengthening seen during wakeful rest. Several forms of memory appear to rely on the replaying of neural activity, so we decided to test this idea out for procedural skill learning,” said Ethan R. Buch, Ph .D., a staff scientist on Dr. Cohen’s team.

A short break is as important as practice when learning a new skill. (Photo via Unsplash)

In the first few trials, the speed of the subjects’ correct input of numbers increased significantly, but at about the 11th cycle, the speed stabilized and gradually decreased due to fatigue. On the other hand, when the researchers observed the subjects, they found that the changes in their brain waves during the rest period seemed to be greater than those during the typing period.

On the other hand, the team also found that when the subjects were resting, their brains would repeatedly replay the compressed memory of the practice process and replay the practice content 25 times at a speed nearly 20 times faster. These replays will also gradually slow down and decrease after the 11th loop, but the number of repeats is different for each person.

Taking a short break during practice is the key to learning. “During the early part of the learning curve, we saw that wakeful rest replay was compressed in time, frequent, and a good predictor of variability in learning a new skill across individuals,” said Dr. Buch., “This suggests that during wakeful rest, the brain binds together the memories required to learn a new skill.”

“Our results support the idea that wakeful rest plays just as important a role as practice in learning a new skill. It appears to be the period when our brains compress and consolidate memories of what we just practiced,” said Leonardo G. Cohen, MD , “Understanding this role of neural replay may not only help shape how we learn new skills but also how we help patients recover skills lost after neurological injury like stroke.”

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