Subliminal Learning While You Sleep & Other Inventive Learning Methods

  • #1
Hi, I'm Andrew, a 2nd year Physics undergrad studying for my end of year exams. Currently I'm looking into new, perhaps unconventional ways of learning.
I have used conventional techniques to date, just reading, writing and doing problems to learn, and I have done quite well in all of my exams to date. I'm just looking for a way to further my learning ability, and increase my chance of getting a first class degree.

One thing I looked into was chemical enhancement/study drugs/whatever you would like to call it. I did some enquiry with regards to drugs that increase focus, such as Ritalin (a drug used to calm down hyperactive kids with ADHD, as far as I'm aware). After looking into that, and a few other 'sister' drugs, I soon realised that the risks of study drugs seem to outweight any benefits from increased learning, not to mention some questions about the legality of getting the drugs & pills.
So beyond taking Omega 3 fish oil, having a decent diet, not drinking alcohol in excess and perhaps a coffee to wake you up before an exam, I decided there wasn't much benefit to be gained from chemical aid.

What I am currently looking into is subliminal (I think this is the correct usage of the word) methods of learning, particularly the recording of orally dictated notes that you play back to yourself while you sleep in the hope of "learning in your sleep." I'm not sure if this is a myth or not, but I'm willing to try it.


So my questions are these:
a) Does anyone known of any legal ways to use (for lack of a better term) chemicals to increase learning ability for exams? or is this a futile endeavour.
b) Does anyone have any experiences/knowledge on "sleep learning" as I have described? is it complete tripe, or could it work?
c) Failing a) and b), does anybody know of any innovative, uncommon or unconventional ways of learning that are beneficial?

I am interested in any advice you have to give, apart from advice concerning my motivations for "getting that extra edge" for exams - that isn't what this thread is about.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Here's a no-fail recipe: No drugs.

Sleep well.

Eat well.

Exercise often, as in every day. (This does not mean walk around; go running, go swimming, doing this will keep your focus up when you get down to actual studying.)

Give 100% attention when studying. Engage as many sense as possible. Have you ever "smelled" a cross product before (Yes, as in olfactory kind of smell)? Or maybe some integrals feel sharp and abrasive! Maybe to you, some matrices look fat and square-headed (Get it? :tongue2:)

There are no "super-secrets" to excelling. It's mostly good study habits and good habits overall (See above). Mostly, try to find tricks and subtle ways of solving problems.

Here's an exercise: Can you express a cross-product as a determinant in 3-space? (There's a trick, obviously)

Good luck!
 
  • #3
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0
I don't think you should consider using drugs to aid your studying.

What I've done so far:
-Eat healthfully (not big, greasy meals). Sometimes I'll drink a coffee or tea in the afternoon if I'm really tired.
-Run 5 days a week. I think exercise is really helpful for gaining energy and keeping a clear mind.
-Get 7.5 hours of sleep a night. Any more or less and I'm tired.
-Do lots of problems after reading the text section.


Yup. That's about it. Sometimes I dream about what I've been studying if I have been studying for a long time right before I sleep, but I don't do this consciously.
 
  • #4
Stephen Tashi
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I tried making audio tapes of passages of math and physics books and playing them at night. (This wasn't during school and it was in the days before CDs). What I found was consistent with what I had read about sleep learning. That is:

1) You can't learning anything while you are asleep. You can learn things in the periods when you are half-awake, just before going to sleep or waking up. You can learn things in the time periods when you are relaxing before going to sleep or lying in bed just after waking up.

2) In the conscious and semi-conscious periods when you can learn, you can't learn sophisticated concepts or follow long chains of reasoning. You can learn things phrased as slogans, songs, rhymes or simple repeated phrases.

Something i have not read about sleep learning, but found to be true is:

3) A good way to get to sleep is to play two tapes at the same time and at the same volume. You mind will shift back and forth between listening to one or the other and "wear itself out" instead of thinking any coherent thoughts that would keep you awake.

Something I observed that is consistent with what I've read about ordinary learning was:

4) You remember facts that are associated with an emotional experience. (There is an old story that teachers in the ancient times would hit a pupil on the head when they told him a crucial fact, to stir such emotion.) So if you make a CD and it has facts or question-answer phrases on it, it's best if they are spoken with some emotion, even comically exaggerated emotion, instead of being spoken in an even, rational tone.


An example of technical material that is presented with non-sensical humor is the series of educational DVDs that star "The Standard Deviants". These obviously aren't designed for sleep learning. They do illustrate the fact that slogans and silly jokes can help people remember things. They are best when used as a review of material that you have already studied.
 
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  • #5
Hi guys, thanks very much for all of the advice so far.

I understand the obvious no drugs comments - a no-brainer. It depends on where each person draws their line; I mean technically caffeine is a drug. When I say things like chemical enhancement I don't mean I'm going to sell my organs to pay for something I'll inject into my veins.
So obviously I'm not looking for some controversial drug, but has anyone used any supplements that they would recommend? like the example I used of Omega 3 fish oil? or maybe taking potassium tablets? - not necessarily these exact things, but supplements like these.

DivisionByZro, I think I have a very good and regimented diet, exercise and sleeping routine, thankyou for that advice. VERY good tip on association - I've previously used pneumonics (e.g. Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me Right Now Sweetheart for stellar classification) to help remembering things, but smells is something I haven't heard of. Very interesting. I also liked your tips on 'sharp' integrals and 'fat' matrices, I see what you're getting at - I similarly personify some symbols & equations I see.

Null_ thanks for your tip doing problems after reading through some text/notes, I do find it a problem to remember things the next day if I only read about them but did not put them into use.
I am not a coffee drinker, what time of day should you drink coffee for it to best take effect?

Stephen Tashi, you have provided me with some extremely useful insight; someone who has actually tried "sleep learning," thankyou.
1) I have commonly heard of the use of this idea in increasing general comprehension & competency with foreign languages, but what you're telling me is that an audio recording of some of my more 'wordy' Physics notes will be useless with regards to taking information onboard?
2) I'm slightly unsure what you're getting at, I think I can see you mean that it is easier to learn rhymes, slogans, pneumonics etc. than to straight up learn a series of steps of logic? But you say you "can't learn sophisticated concepts or follow long chains of reasoning" while conscious??? Surely we can?
3) A fantastic tip, I have some problems getting to sleep because my mind just wanders from conscious thought to conscious thought. I have heard of making a concerted effort to listen to your own breathing to help get to sleep, but your suggestion sounds a real gem.
4) If I do make an audio recording of my own thoughts, I should try not to speak with a monotonous drole and should make it lively? Also, do you think my idea with regards to playing back my notes to myself while asleep will do ANY good?
 
  • #6
Choppy
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I would imagine with all the "experimentation" students have done over the years with various drugs, if there was a magic pill, someone would have found it by now.

Similar with sleep-learning. In my admittedly poor understanding of the human mind, sleep is a time for reinforcing things learned during the waking state. So it would seem that trying to interfere with that, to thrust new ideas in during that period of reinformcement, may actually be worse than doing nothing - it may be counter-productive.
 
  • #7
Stephen Tashi
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1) I have commonly heard of the use of this idea in increasing general comprehension & competency with foreign languages, but what you're telling me is that an audio recording of some of my more 'wordy' Physics notes will be useless with regards to taking information onboard?
Listening to it while nearly asleep would be relatively useless. You'd pick up some of the simpler points or things that were repeated. However, just going over your notes and making the tape will teach you something while you are doing it!

2) I'm slightly unsure what you're getting at, I think I can see you mean that it is easier to learn rhymes, slogans, pneumonics etc. than to straight up learn a series of steps of logic? But you say you "can't learn sophisticated concepts or follow long chains of reasoning" while conscious??? Surely we can?
Think of sitting in a class, feeling sleepy and almost dozing off while some long derivation is being written at the board. You are conscious of what is being spoken, but you are unlikely to appreciate it or be able to reproduce it. Lying in bed just before you go to sleep and just after you wake up is not the same as being "wide" awake.

3) A fantastic tip, I have some problems getting to sleep because my mind just wanders from conscious thought to conscious thought. I have heard of making a concerted effort to listen to your own breathing to help get to sleep, but your suggestion sounds a real gem.
Let us know if it works well for you too.

4) If I do make an audio recording of my own thoughts, I should try not to speak with a monotonous drole and should make it lively?
It's definitely best not to speak in a monotone or even a normal tone of voice. I don't think light and lively speech will get your attention as much as angry or anguished speech. You could mix light and lively speech with that sort of speech. And let me re-emphasize the impotance of repetition. For example, if you do a question-and-answer like "What is an adiabatic process?". Don't just ask it just once. Ask it about 3 times. Perhaps you can use an anguished and pleading tone. Then repeat the answer several times.

Also, do you think my idea with regards to playing back my notes to myself while asleep will do ANY good?
It won't do any good while you are actually asleep. It's actually very hard to find a way to listen to recordings ONLY while you are asleep. For example, if you set a timer and the recording happens to start playing while you are asleep, you will probably become half awake after it starts. Are you playing back audio that you recorded from classes?

If you do physical exercise like walking or any activity where people people listen to music while doing something else, you could listen to your recorded material then.
 
  • #8
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One important tip is to realize that you are human and you have limits. There comes a point at which you are doing all you can, and trying to squeeze some extra performance is counterproductive.

Also the problem with "quick fix" solutions is that they take times away from things that will help. Something that helps a lot is just time management. Start reading three weeks before the test rather than three days.

like the example I used of Omega 3 fish oil? or maybe taking potassium tablets? - not necessarily these exact things, but supplements like these.
Lots of vegetables and exercise. Limit alcohol, meat, and caffiene.
 
  • #9
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1
If you want something to do while you sleep, try studying just before bedtime. I've often found that if I'm stuck on a problem before bed, I wake up the next morning and clearly see how to proceed. Studies have shown that sleep reinforces memories.

This goes beyond just studying. As a silly example, it was common for me to get completely stuck on a song in Guitar Hero. I'd try 20 times and fail every time. I'd go to sleep, wake up the next morning and try, and ace it on my first attempt.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/06/050629070337.htm for an article about one such study, but there have been many.
 
  • #10
what time of day should you drink coffee for it to best take effect?
It depends on how tolerant to caffeine you are. I'm a tea guy. I'm very finicky, so i only get real green tea from some Asian store. My schedule for tea goes as follows:

2 cups green tea in the morning when I wake up (6 a.m.)
1 cup green tea, 1 cup no-caf mint tea around noon
2 cups mint tea with supper
Maybe 2 cups mint tea if I want it in evening.


That may seem like a lot of tea, but I love tea. I try not to have caffeine 12 hours before I go to bed, so that it can be filtered out and I can get a normal night of sleep.

Experiment with yourself to see what's best for you.

-D
 
  • #11
6,814
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I'm rather skeptical that really unconventional biology-type things will work, because if they did, people would have figured it out decades ago, and everyone would be doing it now. If learning in your sleep really worked, it would have become part of the standard curriculum decades ago.

On the other hand there are things that people used to use to remember things that are no longer taught. Google "memory palace".

Something that helped me is to draw cartoons. I tend to think visually so that I can remember things a lot better if I draw a lot of pictures. Something that also helps me remember things is to tell a story. For example, if I have to remember something, I write a Star Trek story in which the thing I have to remember is a critical part of the plot.

Also it helps if I associate things with feelings. For example, if I have to remember something involving equation of states of supernova, I imagine myself reaching into the supernova, and then crushing the core. What does it *feel* like. Hot? cold? Wet? Dry? If I have to remember some equation of motion, I imagine myself being the ball rolling down the hill. What does it feel like?

It helps to be emotionally engaged with the material. You'll find people that can't remember a darn thing in physics, but are encyclopedias of information when it comes to baseball, NASCAR, or soap opera. If you think of physics as NASCAR or baseball, it helps a lot.
 
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  • #12
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If I do make an audio recording of my own thoughts, I should try not to speak with a monotonous drole and should make it lively? Also, do you think my idea with regards to playing back my notes to myself while asleep will do ANY good?
It might, but not for the reason you might think. If you go back and reread your notes into the tape recorder, that alone will may help you to remember things. You might try recording the notes while making funny noises and using silly voices.

Something that helped me is to try to be funny when writing notes.

"And now, live from Cambridge, Mass, your host for this hour of diffeq's, your host, give a big round of applause to...."

"Be very, very quiet, today, we are hunting Bernoulli functions...."

Also one thing that also helps me is that I always keep notes, even if the professor passes out notes. Part of the reason I kept lots of notes (and wrote funny things myself while taking notes) is to keep myself awake.

Also color commentary helps. "Note to self: the prof is making no ***** sense here. WTF???"
 
  • #13
6,814
15
So it would seem that trying to interfere with that, to thrust new ideas in during that period of reinformcement, may actually be worse than doing nothing - it may be counter-productive.
One thing that I've found is that when I study a lot, what I'm studying starts influencing my dreams. I've had dreams in C++ and in 8086 assembly language. I've found that if I have a really, really weird dream, it helps me remember stuff.
 
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  • #14
6,814
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Something else that helps me is to do a victory dance sometimes. You spend hours, maybe days trying to figure out a problem, and after lots of effort, you figure it out. What I've done in those situations is to literally do a victory dance (i.e. I get up and do a little jig.) The reason for doing that is that you can end up putting up with a lot of painful effort if you know that at the end you'll get something good out of it.

Also visualization helps. When I have a big math problem, I imagine myself going into it like a Bruce Lee-style cage fighter. It's me, and the problem in the cage. Only one of us is going to get out alive, and it's going to be me.

On tests, I've often imagined myself on the bridge of the Enterprise. Shield #2 down captain!!!! We are running out of time!!!! Skip to the next problem Scotty, and I need more power!!! I'm giving her all I can Captain!!!!
 
  • #15
"Be very, very quiet, today, we are hunting Bernoulli functions...."
You'll need a cannon for those!

I seriously laughed to myself with that one. That's also what I try to do; I imagine myself in some environment with the concepts/equations. I interact with them. Sometimes I'll throw a large integral into a roasting pot. I'll hear the dx sizzle. A square root might just come out and hit the glass pane on my stove and crack it. It gets intense!

What two-fish suggested above is probably the best way to remember anything. If you can associate the thing you want to remember with vivid senses, then you won't forget it easily. A proof of this is people who remember 30000 digits of Pi. How do they do it? They make up stories.
 
  • #16
1,086
2
It depends on how tolerant to caffeine you are. I'm a tea guy. I'm very finicky, so i only get real green tea from some Asian store. My schedule for tea goes as follows:

2 cups green tea in the morning when I wake up (6 a.m.)
1 cup green tea, 1 cup no-caf mint tea around noon
2 cups mint tea with supper
Maybe 2 cups mint tea if I want it in evening.

That may seem like a lot of tea, but I love tea. I try not to have caffeine 12 hours before I go to bed, so that it can be filtered out and I can get a normal night of sleep.

Experiment with yourself to see what's best for you.

-D
I agree, experiment and see. I'm drinking cups upon cups of tea, as well (though not for the caffeine), usually 3 cups of black tea and 3 cups of green tea a day. If you're just looking for caffeine, though, you might want to buy it in pill form, it's probably going to be the cheapest. But if you want taste, as well, there's probably nothing like that sweet taste and smell of java.
Here's a no-fail recipe: No drugs.

Sleep well.

Eat well.

Exercise often, as in every day. (This does not mean walk around; go running, go swimming, doing this will keep your focus up when you get down to actual studying.)

Give 100% attention when studying. Engage as many sense as possible. Have you ever "smelled" a cross product before (Yes, as in olfactory kind of smell)? Or maybe some integrals feel sharp and abrasive! Maybe to you, some matrices look fat and square-headed (Get it? :tongue2:)

There are no "super-secrets" to excelling. It's mostly good study habits and good habits overall (See above). Mostly, try to find tricks and subtle ways of solving problems.
This is also probably as good as advice as it gets.
 
  • #17
100
1
fish oil is good. at least over the long haul. plus, it alleviates over-inflammation and improves a whole host of mental health scores.

cobalamin improves speed of mental processing.

creatine probably helps, especially if you're vegetarian.

don't forget your folate and fresh veggies.

get some freaking sleep.

stress raises cortisol. cortisol makes it hard to recall.

what can i say, i like caffeine and mild OTC stims. but you've got to be judicious about things that will make you bonk later.

make and memorize lists and outlines of material.

approach material from different senses. write, draw, speak, sing, etc. i actually use coloring books for a lot of the bio stuff. my anatomy teacher had her own Kapit and Elson book. engineers doodle a lot, not sure about physics guys. and learn some interactive math visualization packages if you haven't already. matlab, mathematica, whatever you can use to play what-if games with.
 

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