What if the key to learning was… in breaks? This is what suggests a study by the American Institutes of Health (NIH) published in the scientific journal Cell Reports June 8. According to the neurological researchers who signed it, taking short breaks strengthens memories and therefore makes it easier to learn a new task.

10 seconds of learning, 10 seconds of pause

For this work, the researchers recruited 33 healthy volunteers. All right-handed, they had to learn to type a five-digit code with their left hand. They had to go through it as many times as possible for 10 seconds, then take a 10 second break and repeat this alternation 35 times.

Throughout the experiment, the researchers mapped their brain activity, both during training and during breaks.

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An “equally important” role of rest

The result: During rest times, subjects’ brains quickly and repeatedly replay faster versions of the activity observed during training. Much faster, even, since the speed of the brain waves was then multiplied by 20.

Our results support the idea that awake rest plays just as important a role as practice in learning a new skill.“interprets Dr. Leonardo Cohen, a researcher in neurology at the NIH and co-author of the study in a Institute press release.

Why ? Because, according to the researchers, short breaks are times when “our brain compresses and consolidates memories of what we have just learned“, continues Dr. Cohen.

Learn and re-educate

This discovery could be used to learn new skills more quickly, say the researchers.

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But that’s not all: it could also be a valuable tool to facilitate the rehabilitation and recovery of skills lost in some neurological patients, for example after a stroke.