Friday, July 16, 2010

Boost your Guitar Hero skills 101 - SLEEP! Really?

We have been told that feeling well-rested while studying and reviewing your work just before bedtime enhances your memory for what you have studied. But when it comes to the role of sleep in motor memory, the answer is less clear. A recent research abstract presented at the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC by Dr Kevin Peters from Trent University suggests that sleep enhances our performance in complex motor learning tasks, as measured by an larger increase in accuracy levels obtained in playing guitar hero in the sleep condition compared to the wake condition.

However, an earlier paper by Cai & Rickard (2009) suggests that after controlling for circadian (time of day) and homeostatic (time since sleep) confounds, participants in the sleep conditions did not display any benefits in a motor sequence task.

The participants in their research were categorized into 3 conditions - a wake group, a 1 night sleep post-training group and a 2 night sleep post-training group. Participants were tasked to tap a number sequence, 4-1-3-2-4 repeatedly and reaction times (RTs) were measured. All participants trained at about 9.30am and were tested on 5.30pm on the day itself or on Day 2 and Day 3 depending on which conditions they were in.

Comparing difference scores of their RTs for the 3 different groups revealed no significant differences between them. If sleeping does indeed improve motor memory, we would expect a significant reduction in RTs for the sleep groups compared to the wake group. Therefore, it appears that after controlling for circadian and homeostatic factors, sleeping after training does not improve motor sequence performance.



Unfortunately, I do not have access to the exact methodology and results of Peter's study to verify if the concerns about the relevant confounds raised by Cai & Rickard (2009) are adequately addressed. Therefore, as far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on the specific benefits (if any) conferred to motor memory by sleep. But I must say that Peter's design holds much promise (he certainly won't have any trouble finding willing and good subjects).

Well, regardless of whether sleeping helps you perfect that golf swing or ramp up your skill level on guitar hero, it’s still a good idea to get a good night's rest to ward off the negative effects associated with sleep deprivation in other domains of our lives. Afterall, according to a study by Falleti, Maruff, Collie, Darby & McStephen (2003), driving after being awake for 24hrs is like driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. Not quite enough to get you arrested but probably more than enough to make you think twice about pulling that all-nighter.


ResearchBlogging.org
Cai, D., & Rickard, T. (2009). Reconsidering the role of sleep for motor memory. Behavioral Neuroscience, 123 (6), 1153-1157 DOI: 10.1037/a0017672

Falleti MG, Maruff P, Collie A, Darby DG, & McStephen M (2003). Qualitative similarities in cognitive impairment associated with 24 h of sustained wakefulness and a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. Journal of sleep research, 12 (4), 265-74 PMID: 14633237

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