Trying to learn a new skill? Researchers of a new study suggest that taking short breaks is key to really solidifying the new skills that we learn.

Typing Test

Many people who want to learn new skills practice a lot so that they can master it. However, researchers of a new National Institutes For Health study suggest that apart from practice, resting is also critical to truly mastering a new skill.

In the study, right-handed volunteers under a cone-shaped brain scanning cap sat in front of a computer screen where they were shown a series of numbers. They were tasked to type the numbers as fast as they could with their left hands for 10 seconds, then to rest for 10 seconds, and then to repeat the cycle until they had typed the numbers 35 times.

Researchers observed that the speed at which the volunteers typed the numbers correctly increased dramatically with every trial, and then leveled off by the 11th typing. Those results were expected, but observed something rather interesting.

Brain At Rest

The researchers observed from the brain scans that the participants’ brains were changing and improving during the breaks rather than during the typing, and that these changes added up the learning they made during the day. In addition, those gains were found to be greater than the ones they observed when the volunteers came back to try again the next day.

Further, the researchers also noticed that the volunteers’ brains were actually solidifying the memory during the rest periods, and those changes that occur during the breaks were the only ones that correlated to performance.

Learning And Re-Learning Skills

Basically, the results of the study suggest that it is during those early, short breaks that the brain actually works to solidify the memory of a newly learned skill. According to researchers, this new information may be incorporated, not just by people who want to learn a new skill, but also by stroke patients doing rehabilitative treatments to re-learn the skills that they lost.

“Everyone thinks you need to ‘practice, practice, practice’ when learning something new. Instead, we found that resting, early and often, may be just as critical to learning as practice,” said senior author Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.

The research is published in the journal Current Biology.

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