Sleep-dependent learning and practice-dependent deterioration in an orientation discrimination task

Behav Neurosci. 2008 Apr;122(2):267-72. doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.122.2.267.


Learning new information requires practice. The degree of learning can be influenced by the amount of practice and whether subjects sleep between sessions. Over-practice, however, can lead to performance deterioration. The interaction between practice-dependent deterioration and sleep-dependent learning needs more study. We examine whether the amount of practice before sleep alters learning, and whether prior sleep protects against deterioration. Two groups (N = 33) were tested three times across two days on an orientation discrimination task. The High practice group was tested twice before a night of sleep and once after, at 9 a.m., 7 p.m., and 9 a.m. The Low practice group was tested once before a night of sleep and twice after, at 7 p.m., 9 a.m., and 7 p.m. Overall, both groups showed (1) deterioration with repeated, within-day testing, (2) performance improvement only after a night of sleep, (3) similar amounts of sleep-dependent learning and practice-dependent deterioration. In summary, we found that sleep resets visual contrast thresholds to a lower baseline (i.e., produces learning), but does not prevent over-practice deterioration effects. Likewise, over-practice deterioration does not influence the magnitude of overnight learning on this task.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reference Values
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*