Trial Balloon

Learned Dreams

Posted at 6:00 AM on April 23, 2010 by Dale Connelly (48 Comments)
Filed under: Science

Radio Heartland has tickets to give away to a concert by Over the Rhine at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at 7pm next Tuesday, April 27th. We'll close off entries at 1pm today and notify winners by e-mail later this afternoon.

Enter the drawing.
Obey the rules.
Good luck!


Trial Balloon today is brought to you by Physicians for Bedrest, promoting completion of the first job you ever had (and the job that still may mean the most for your overall well-being) - the job of sleep!

The evidence in favor of the benefits of sleep continues to mount, and now there are indications that dreaming can be quite beneficial. A study published just yesterday in the journal Current Biology tells of subjects trying to decipher a computer generated three-dimensional maze. The task was to study the maze and to learn how to get to a landmark (a tree) in the center. Hours later, the same subjects were re-tested on the maze to see how their performance had changed over time.

Those who did not sleep between the first and second sessions did no better, and some did worse.
Those who slept did marginally better.
But those who slept AND reported dreaming about the maze showed vast improvement over their earlier performance.

The conclusion? That's anybody's guess, because it involves synthesizing a lot of complicated information. I had to read a whole article about the study and some smarter student's blog and then take a nap before I could even begin to understand it, but this is what I get:

Going to sleep as soon as possible after a difficult bit of learning is the best way to make educational progress.

So those stuck up students who took detailed notes in Mr. Pike's biology class and then made a big show out of re-writing those notes very neatly during the after-lunch study hall should have been more accepting of certain other students who spent that incredibly boring period with their heads down on their desks in daily drool soaked, snore-punctuated, air-gasping naps.

And instead of calling an unconscious fellow learner a "gross, inconsiderate slob" and trying to get him in trouble, it would have been wiser to appreciate how efficiently that learner was consolidating and internalizing the recently acquired information, allowing it to imprint itself on his neural pathways.

And rather than making fun of that learner for his incoherent sleep-state mumblings about Mr. Pike, mashed potatoes and fire juggling walruses, it would have been much more considerate to acknowledge that dreaming is a useful tool that does something mysterious and important that we obviously don't understand and it is in no way an indication that the dreamer is weird, uncool, or may be living a twisted and perverse fantasy life.

So there, Mary Ellen Fitzpatrick!

Do you feel more capable or smarter about something after you've had a chance to sleep on it?


Comments (48)

I'm not sure if I feel more capable or smarter after sleeping/dreaming. In fact, sometimes when I've had a doozy of a dream (like last night... church choir, gymnastics, monks and nuns, recreation of a myth with a dragon, watching said recreation while standing on a snowy, slippery ledge, dairy queen... yikes!), I spend more time trying to figure out where all the stuff comes from in my brain! But maybe that helps put whatever issue I had before sleeping into perspective?

Happy Friday Heartlanders!

Posted by sherrilee | April 23, 2010 6:36 AM


no

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | April 23, 2010 6:40 AM


Good Morning to All,

I don't know if sleeping helps me learn, but I do know that having taken college classes has given me night mares. Of course, my inability to stay awake in some classes might be part of the cause of my night mares. From time to time I dream about not doing something I should have done to complete college class work. However, it isn't usually sleeping class. Usually in the dream I am not able to find where my classes are being held.

Posted by Jim | April 23, 2010 6:47 AM


Yes -- I know I function, feel and look better.
Last night I got 7 hours of sleep and I dreamed that my brother was chasing me with a bowl of green jello and my sister was throwing eggs at me and Carlos was nowhere in sight. I kept calling, "Carlos, Carlos, where the hell are you?" but he never answered. Anyway 7 hours is 7 hours!

Have a great Friday, Kids!

P.S. Is anyone, by chance, going to see Eliza Sat. night? Moi and daughter will be there.

Posted by Donna | April 23, 2010 6:56 AM


Greetings! No, I generally don't feel smarter or more capable after a night's sleep. Although I do know a good night's sleep helps erase most bad days or minor problems, and puts them in perspective. Or it's just massive denial on my part ...

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | April 23, 2010 7:01 AM


Gee, Dale, I don't think so. I am not able to dream "on task" at will. And if I could control my dream topics, I doubt I'd direct that skill toward being a better worker.

Some of my dreams involve activities that would get me thrown in jail if I did them in real life. Most are so goofy they just . . . well, like the one where I braved machine guns and barbed wire to protect Colonel Sander's secret recipe from the East Germans. I haven't found practical use for that one yet.

I hope that all you Heartlanders have a great weekend, which apparently means you need to do something indoors. I'm a happy camper, still processing photos of my perfect grandson.

Posted by Steve back in Saint Paul | April 23, 2010 7:02 AM


Donna, Bill and I will be at the Eliza show on Sat. I will try to remember to wear my goat pin.
How will I recognize you?

and thanks for the green jello image this morning....yuck!

Clyde, really? NO! first of all I've never seen a one word answer from you so I'm sure you have more to say on the subject. And second; how is that possible? maybe you can't think of a specific time right now but I do believe everyone has at least one time where sleeping on the problem brought insight the following day.

Posted by Kate in Eden Prairie | April 23, 2010 7:33 AM


I can't recall feeling smarter about some particluar thing, but I do know I have amazing skills in dreams, like writing whole, beautiful songs for guitar. (!) Wish I could capture it before waking up.

For freshman speech class, I did my first (5 minute) speech on dreams. Most of the information came from a little booklet I found at a grocery checkout counter, so it must have been quite profound. I think I got a good grade, though, so maybe I had plenty of sleep the night before.

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | April 23, 2010 7:45 AM


Goodness yes. If for no other reason than the fact that sleep time gives me a little space around whatever it is to gain a bit of perspective.

I've had a couple of times when I had something to solve I could see no way through, had a dream about it that night and the next a solution just seemed to naturally appear.

This of course presumes I can power down from a type A frenzy enough to get to sleep.

Posted by catherine | April 23, 2010 7:47 AM


thank you for the dog songs earlier, one of my dogs died on sunday and i miss him but the songs made me smile
i'm old so good sleep is a fond memory, which is one of the things i do remember

Posted by shelley | April 23, 2010 7:51 AM


"Eschew surplussage." Twain

Posted by c | April 23, 2010 7:59 AM


I don't usually remember my dreams. I know I've had a good night's sleep when I wake up in the morning and I don't remember falling asleep. When I remember my dreams, they were usually nightmares. Lately, I've been waking up at 2 or 3 am, thinking I'm late for work. Then I realize it's far too early to be up, and fall back asleep. Just strange.

shelley - I know how you feel. We had to put our dog of 14 years down a year ago February. I still miss him :( He was the best dog I've ever known. I'm finally living somewhere that I can have a dog (albeit a small one) and I've been looking for one. I prefer big dogs, which are a lot easier to find. Little dogs are adopted right away. Oh well, I'm patient :)

Posted by Alanna in MI | April 23, 2010 8:11 AM


On Tuesday night I had trouble sleeping due to stress at work and the need to get up really early to finish baking some homemade Danish pastry that I was bringing to a dessert buffet at work. I got up at 3:30am and was extremely not myself for the whole day. I need sleep and never seem to get enough! We have pretty disrupted nights as a rule. My husband has frequent nightmares during which he yells and strikes out, so I have to be somewhat aware of needing to duck or wake him up before his dreams really gets going. The dog sleeps with us, and will often start chasing the cats if they invade our sleeping space. Lately, since I haven't put the screens on the windows yet, our largest cat has taken to jumping out the window and then crying to be let in in the wee hours since he is scared of the outdoors. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I'm so tired most days. When I was a student I always studied right before I went to sleep. I don't remember having dreams about the material, but I think sleeping aids learning. I wonder if the people who dreamed about the maze had learned the maze more readily than those who didn't dream about the maze, and so their intelligence accounted for the3ir improrvd learning, not necessarily dreaming about the material?

Posted by Renee | April 23, 2010 8:14 AM


Sleep cures all. I'm sure it makes me smarter, but I never get enough of the stuff. Sometimes I do figure out the solution to a network problem while I am sleeping.

Happy Friday, all!

Posted by elinor | April 23, 2010 8:16 AM


Good Friday morning! I don't know if I feel smarter or more capable after I 'sleep on' something, but there is a change that occurs, most definitely. Maybe the process of learning becomes somehow integrated into my thinking after I sleep; puzzles sort themselves out; I can tell the difference between the mountains and the molehills, and what seems like string-theory in the evening becomes simple addition and subtraction in the morning. It's a good thing, since I am a scatterbrain of the first order!

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | April 23, 2010 8:18 AM


b in bh--jaw report please.

Posted by c | April 23, 2010 8:23 AM


Like Elinor, sleeping and dreaming sometimes helps me figure out problems I haven't been able to figure out when I'm awake (though the dream from several years ago where I was trying to climb out of embedded web page tables and wound up climbing up the html code still haunts me).

Alanna - I don't know if a basset hound counts as a "small dog" (my current hound is 45 lbs, my previous hound was about 55, but they look smaller b/c of the short legs), but there is a good rescue group for bassets that operates in MN/WI - and I bet there's a dog or two close to you there in the UP. :)

C - love they Twain quote.

Posted by Anna | April 23, 2010 8:34 AM


Anna - My landlady specified in the lease that the dog must be no taller than a foot. That's a tiny dog...

Posted by Alanna in MI | April 23, 2010 8:40 AM


"Brevity is the soul of wit" Sahkespeare
"Brevity is the soul of lingere" Dorothy Parker

Posted by c | April 23, 2010 8:40 AM


Geez Clyde -- you're funny even when you're extremely brief. I hope you slept well last night and are feeling OK.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | April 23, 2010 8:42 AM


i do solve stuff in my sleep. i don't intend to it jsut happens . not all the time not all my challanges but you gotta take what you get. its interesting how things work themselves out when you are not beating yourself up looking for an answer.
clyde thanks for the harry chapin lyrics. perfect.great outsider observations.

Posted by tim | April 23, 2010 8:44 AM


Shelley... so sorry to hear about your loss. I've had to let go of many dogs throughout my life and I console myself by saying "I didn't spoil that dog thoroughly for ___ years to have him/her suffer at the end." Of course, this never helps in the first week, so hang in there.

Clyde...it's not the one word answer. It's that you (& tim as well) never cease to amaze me with what you can come with so early in the morning. I'm still in a fog most mornings and one or the other of you have written a 16-stanza epic in response to the blog!

Posted by sherrilee | April 23, 2010 8:45 AM


Clyde--who's that?
Alannna--that's not dog; that's a snake.

Posted by c | April 23, 2010 8:48 AM


About the Petula Clark song 'Don't Sleep in the Subway': Over here in England the 'Subway' is not an underground train, but rather an underground walkway, typically going under a busy road. It's a common place for the homeless to sleep in urban areas. So the song doesn't quite say the same thing in New York as in London.

Thanks again for giving this Minnesota-boy-across-the-pond his daily dose of Radio Heartland.

Posted by Victor in England | April 23, 2010 8:49 AM


Barb - It's nice to know I'm not the only one who composes in my sleep. I've written some fantastic music that way. Sometimes it stays with me for those first few moments of wakefullness, and then it's gone, never to be heard again by me or what I'm sure would have been an adoring public. Recently I had a fragment stick with me for several days. But alas, 'twas just a fragment, and I couldn't do anything with it. I suppose writing it down would have been a prudent thing to do.

Paul McCartney kept a piano by his bedside for just this reason. It's how he wrote "Yesterday." Barb's work and mine were no doubt better.

Posted by Don in West St. Paul | April 23, 2010 8:51 AM


Victor, Victor--stay with us, please. I was just wondering if we have any bloggers from beyond the borders.

Posted by Clyde | April 23, 2010 8:53 AM


When I was studying abroad (in the 1970s) I was with a group learning Japanese up in the mountains of Niigata. We were in an old Japanese inn (with the sliding paper walls). One of my fellow students, Bill, was struggling quite a bit with the language -- just couldn't seem to remember anything no matter how hard he tried. Until... late one night his roommate Jeff came and quietly wakened all of us -- "You've just got to hear this!! You won't believe it..." And so we all filed silently into his room to listen to Bill speaking beautiful, fluent Japanese in his sleep. I don't remember the topic but in the morning when we all were witnesses to the fact that he could, indeed, speak Japanese, it broke through his mental block. He went on to make his career in Japan, and never had a problem with the language again.

Posted by Kris in Northfield | April 23, 2010 8:54 AM


So sorry about your pooch, Shelley. Corgi's are pretty short. Pugs would be another foot high or less option.

The other night my husband started making the most frightful noises in his sleep, and I thought that he was ready to start with another bad dream, so I woke him up and he mumbled that it was ok, Ruth wanted him to practice. Ruth is is vocal teacher, and he was actually doing his vocal warm ups in his sleep!

Posted by Renee | April 23, 2010 8:54 AM


Victor...are in in London studying? Working? Any big to-do's in London today in honor of Shakespeare's birthday?

Posted by sherrilee | April 23, 2010 8:55 AM


Howdy from out West, y'all--

gotta say, i miss hanging out with you liberal progressive types; i fear i have underestimated the difficulty of being surrounded by Tea Partyers and Fundamentalists and Harsh Conservatives!

re topic: i'm reminded of what one witty friend wrote in her summary of what she'd been up to in the 10 years since high school graduation--"Got some sleep."

i definitely sleep on problems, challenges, conundrums, quandaries and puzzles--and sometimes it helps. i have a tendency to impulsive words/actions, so for me, it is always a good idea to somehow postpone reaction or response :-)

(Hi, donna; wish i could go to Eliza with you and the daughter! have fun)

(Hi, dale and others--miss you!)

have a great day, all

Posted by Kay H in Utah | April 23, 2010 8:58 AM


Regarding my sleep and dreams: I have been closely observing my sleep and dreams since about age 8-9, seriously. I used to try to remember the moment when I fell a sleep, a silly child’s quest. Things discovered over the years:
Sleep does not help me solve problems, see things clearer, etc. I think this makes me odd but it does not. Time does, but not sleep. (Yes, I know it is time and not sleep.) I usually see the whole of things in a flash, the solution, the sermon, the painting, the poem, etc. Not that they come out that way in the end but I start with the whole not the start.
I seldom remember my dreams after the first few minutes. I have to be woken in the middle of a dream to be aware of it. Since I wake up 2-10 times a night, I have many chance to observe this—one of my many gifts from fibromyalgia.
My dreams only rarely make any sense at all or have any relationship to the day or issues in my life. I do not remember my dreams as such but I have been tracking this for many years.
With one huge exception—I once dreamed a whole novel and still remember it—“Dixie’s Dancing Doll House” was its title in the dream.
(My inner Smeagel who seeks brevity in all things objects to the length of this post.)

Posted by Clyde | April 23, 2010 9:05 AM


@Victor in England - thanks for the clarification on the Petula Ckark song. That has been a puzzle over the years, which you graciously solved - and in broad daylight too!

Guess the familiar line from Macbeth about sleep would be appropriate to quote on the Bard's B-day;

"Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care"

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | April 23, 2010 9:09 AM


ditto on the "subway" clarification! I've always liked Petula Clark's singing, but never quite understood that song--

Posted by Kay H in Utah | April 23, 2010 9:15 AM


Best explanation of depression in few words from MacBeth:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Posted by c | April 23, 2010 9:17 AM


great shakespear quote clyde.
hey did you find your masters thesis. no hurry but when you do i'd be interested in looking at it.
kay i hear you about the right wingers out there in utah. i lost a dog there 40 years ago and had to spend 2 weeks looking for him. learned a lot about the culture and the unique utah idiosyncracies. tough spot to break into the social scene and as you noted who would want to join in on a lot of it.
alana i am not a little dog fan, my girls got a shittzu and its a nice little fella but i did have a friend that got a mineature dachshunt long haired was cute and the dog had a nice vibe. lots of energy but in a way i could relate to better than the typical yippie little energy maniacs i see in little dogs. my shittzu is a 7 year old shelter rescue dog who slleps all day but likes to cuddle with the girls. he was obviously abused by someone i remind him of so he runs for the nearest cove when i come into view but he is a nice little dog.
my basset is a foot tall but i wouldn't wish her on an enemy. me and bassets are not going to go into the buddy hall of fame any time soon. needy and sneaky is my take on the breed. my shepard mix is the best dog ever but hed only be a foot tall if you cut his legs off and i don't think hed appreciate it.

Posted by tim | April 23, 2010 9:32 AM


did dixies dancing doll house make it to paper?

Posted by tim | April 23, 2010 9:35 AM


If we do S. quotes on otday'sd bvlog, they must be from MSN's Dream:
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1. 1
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2. 1
I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 4. 1
What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3. 1

Posted by Clyde | April 23, 2010 9:35 AM


I solve things in the shower... does that still count?

Posted by Ben | April 23, 2010 9:40 AM



Here's a springtime quote from Shakespeare:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Quote. Act ii. Scene.1

Happy Birthday, Will!

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | April 23, 2010 9:40 AM


tim--who doesn't want to write verse with the word eglantine in it?
No Dixie's Dollhouse never made it to paper. I said it was a novel; I did not say it was a good novel. But re my seeing the whole: I dreamed the whole novel, like a prospectus.

Posted by Clyde | April 23, 2010 9:41 AM


@ Clyde - Looks like we had the same quote in mind!

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | April 23, 2010 9:44 AM


terri--I just shared my two favorite quotes from Shakespeare--the MacBeth and the eglantine quote wwe both put up . . . sort of odd paring are they not?
Here in Mankato we have a family name MacBeth. I bike ride in a cemetary on Saturday mornings; it strikes me everytime I ride by their tombstone to see that name.

Posted by Clyde | April 23, 2010 9:49 AM


My son just called from San Jose to check on his sister and brought another song lyric to life.
"Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet and the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat." He has a lemon tree in bloom in his backyard, first time he has been near one in bloom. He says the whole backyard reeks of verwhelming swetness.

Posted by Clyde | April 23, 2010 9:52 AM


Kate - I'll wear my goat pin also. Lora and I both have shorter blonde hair and are about the same size. To play it safe, I'll carry a sign that says, "Circle me, Bert".

Hi Kay! I wish you were here to go along too. I'll update you on the concert sometime next week.

Posted by Donna | April 23, 2010 11:32 AM


a little worried about b in bh after her root canal ..
donna--shouldn't it be Circle me Carlos?
tim--don't have thesis in bits and bytpes but dso have copy of rough draft at home.

good weekend all-going home to sleep perhaps to dream, perhaps to keep waking up, ah, there's the rub

Posted by c in k | April 23, 2010 11:48 AM


Shelly - sorry about your doggie; i'm glad you can smile at the memory.

Victor - hey!

C - jaw tired but pain free for the first time in a week! yippeeee

early morning milking (6 a.m. - the Girls were confused) and then to a meeting at 7:30 so i missed out on the TB morning. good reading - thanks!
and happy weekend, All

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | April 23, 2010 11:50 AM


Ben - I think your shower problem-solving must count, 'cuz I do the same thing when I brush my teeth (pretty sure there is a connection between massaging the gums and jogging the brain).

Tim - I must defend the basset breed a bit. Needy, yes. Sneaky, yes. But sweet, dear dogs (or at least the ones I have known, and the two that have adopted me). But bigger than a foot tall by an inch or two. Good city dogs - big dog attitude without needing the big dog exercise.

B in B - glad the mouth is pain free. Yay!

Posted by Anna | April 23, 2010 1:34 PM


It's a bit late - but thinking on the Shakespeare, I'm surprised, given the day's theoretical topic that no one offered:

If we shadows have offended
think but this, and all is mended
That you have but slumber'd here
while these visions did appear
And this weak and idle theme
No more yielding but a dream...

(From Puck's epilogue in "Midsummer Night's Dream)

Posted by Anna | April 23, 2010 1:53 PM


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