David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Senses Working Overtime

January 25, 2018

I am going to write about sleep again.  Not sure it is the wisest move on my part.  My last blog about sleep -- I Feel Like A Sleep Number -- came three days before my heart attack.  The one before that occurs exactly to the day a year ago -- Ain't This A Pip--and that kind of coincidence scares the hell out of me. The first one was part of my Inside The HEAD series where I posted every day something related to education (November 26, 2012). I still get the shakes thinking about my stupidity with that idea.

However this week I see the provocative headline "How Sound and Smell Cues Can Enhance Learning While You Sleep," and I must throw caution to the wind.  First off, the article is very interesting in giving us a brief history of sleep learning based research (I now know a new word, "hypnopaedia," which is what we should call sleep learning.  I may never use it, however, as it sounds too much to me like a hypnotist-pedophile.)

However, as someone who sleeps with two dogs in his bed at all times, the two main conjectures of the article bother me for what they might mean for me.  For one, if "smells . . . could be used to cue the sleeping brain," I am not sure what associations my sleeping brain is making from one of two kind of dog odors that frankly aren't pleasant--either their general dog-ness or their Purina dog chow-infused farts (talk about throwing caution to the wind).

Add on top of that, the fact that "a sound cue [even played during sleep] reactivates the memory of learning."  Marcus for what seems like hours on end can lick/chew himself ad nauseam, adding nausea to any memory of learning I must have of that.  Or now that we have Grizzly, we have that guttural growl whenever he suspects the local cat, or squirrel, or raccoon, or ghost, or leaf is acting up outside the window.

Even if I try to extricate myself and this conversation from my dogs (which would, by the way, allow me more than a sliver of bed near the edge for sleeping), I am skeptical of the claims later in the article about music: "Think of how quickly you could learn a new musical instrument or song, just by reminding your sleeping brain of previous learning!"  For at least a thousand nights when I was younger, I fell asleep somewhere within the 20 minutes or so that was Dire Straits' Making Movies' side one (in my mind, it was always perfectly aligned with "Juliet, when we made love, you used to cry") and I seriously doubt I came any closer to learning that song.

Ultimately, what is the value to this research for educators?  We have students falling asleep in our classes all the time. Is their learning improving through that slumber? It might explain the student I had one semester in Humanities who fell asleep all the time, but whenever I asked a question, he would always jump awake and be the first one to answer . . . almost always correctly.  On the other hand, there was the poor woman (because it is only now that I am older that I realize how poorly I handled the situation) who fell asleep in my "Introduction to Literature" class, and whom I awoke by taking her Literature textbook (English majors will know how big those suckers are) and slamming it on her desk.  Every time that poor woman hears a boom while she is sleeping, she must now jerk awake saying, "The Grandmother in 'A Good Man Is Hard To Find' has found redemption at the end!  Say hallelujah!"

In the end, I feel sorry for my sense of smell and sense of hearing.  Aren't all of our senses worked hard enough during the day?  Can't they just get a good night's sleep without being held accountable for my learning?