Sleep does not enhance motor sequence learning

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2008 Jul;34(4):834-42. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.34.4.834.


Improvements in motor sequence performance have been observed after a delay involving sleep. This finding has been taken as evidence for an active sleep consolidation process that enhances subsequent performance. In a review of this literature, however, the authors observed 4 aspects of data analyses and experimental design that could lead to improved performance on the test in the absence of any sleep consolidation: (a) masking of learning effects in the averaged data, (b) masking of reactive inhibition effects in the averaged training data, (c) time-of-day and time-since-sleep confounds, and (d) a gradual buildup of fatigue over the course of massed (i.e., concentrated) training. In 2 experiments the authors show that when these factors are controlled for, or when their effects are substantially reduced, the sleep enhancement effect is eliminated. Whereas sleep may play a role in protection from forgetting of motor skills, it does not result in performance enhancement.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time
  • Sleep / physiology*