It’s long been a feature of science fiction, the idea of learning while you sleep. Like some kind of human download, the information you hear whilst you’re sleeping is supposed to stay with you much better than information received when you’re awake (presumably because of all the other distractions). Sadly, the idea has now been discredited, but it still pops up as a form of ‘behavioural adjustment’, for example hypnotherapy CDs (remember the episode of Friends where Chandler wants to stop smoking, but his hypnotherapy tape ends up being specifically aimed at women not men?).
I was pleased to see in a Language and words in the news last month, though, that sleep still has its place in learning, just in a much more traditional way. Apparently, sleep helps you remember what you’ve just learned, though the downside of this piece of research could be even more students leaving cramming to the very last minute. The thing to remind them, I suppose, is that for the theory to work, they do actually need to sleep, not just work through the night!