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Learn Mem. 2003 Jul-Aug;10(4):275-84.

Sleep and the time course of motor skill learning.

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  • 1Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Growing evidence suggests that sleep plays an important role in the process of procedural learning. Most recently, sleep has been implicated in the continued development of motor-skill learning following initial acquisition. However, the temporal evolution of motor learning before and after sleep, the effects of different training regimens, and the long-term development of motor learning across multiple nights of sleep remain unknown. Here, we report data for subjects trained and retested on a sequential finger-tapping task across multiple days. The findings demonstrate firstly that following initial training, small practice-dependent improvements are possible before, but not following the large practice-independent gains that develop across a night of sleep. Secondly, doubling the quantity of initial training does not alter the amount of subsequent sleep-dependent learning that develops overnight. Thirdly, the amount of sleep-dependent learning does not correlate with the amount of practice-dependent learning achieved during training, suggesting the existence of two discrete motor-learning processes. Finally, whereas the majority of sleep-dependent motor-skill learning develops during the first night of sleep following training, additional nights of sleep still offer continued improvements.

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