Relearn Faster and Retain Longer

Psychol Sci. 2016 Oct;27(10):1321-1330. doi: 10.1177/0956797616659930. Epub 2016 Aug 20.


Both repeated practice and sleep improve long-term retention of information. The assumed common mechanism underlying these effects is memory reactivation, either on-line and effortful or off-line and effortless. In the study reported here, we investigated whether sleep-dependent memory consolidation could help to save practice time during relearning. During two sessions occurring 12 hr apart, 40 participants practiced foreign vocabulary until they reached a perfect level of performance. Half of them learned in the morning and relearned in the evening of a single day. The other half learned in the evening of one day, slept, and then relearned in the morning of the next day. Their retention was assessed 1 week later and 6 months later. We found that interleaving sleep between learning sessions not only reduced the amount of practice needed by half but also ensured much better long-term retention. Sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but sleeping between two learning sessions is a better strategy.

Keywords: learning; relearning; repeated practice; sleep-dependent memory consolidation; sleep-wake cycle.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance / psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult