Listening to certain types of sounds could improve your memory while you sleep, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, revealed that specifically timed sounds that rise and fall at the same rate as brain waves during sleep can improve memory.

This method could potentially improve people’s memory of information they learned the day before, and also help those who have memory issues.

Slow oscillations in brain activity happen during slow-wave sleep and are necessary for storing memories. Specific sounds that can be synchronized to the rhythm of the slow brain oscillations of people who are sleeping improves these oscillations, and in turn, improves memory.

Dr Jan Born, who led the research at the University of Tubingen, in Germany, said:

“Importantly, the sound stimulation is effective only when the sounds occur in synchrony with the ongoing slow oscillation rhythm during deep sleep.”

The researchers conducted tests on 11 people – during which they were exposed to sound stimulations or to fake stimulations.

The participants were then shown 120 pairs of words every night before bed. In the morning they were tested to see what they remembered.

When the subjects were exposed to stimulating sounds that were in sync with the brain’s slow oscillation rhythm, they could remember word associations that they had learned the previous night better.

Stimulation that was not in line with the brain’s slow oscillation rhythm did not work the same way.

Dr. Born said:

“Importantly, the sound stimulation is effective only when the sounds occur in synchrony with the ongoing slow oscillation rhythm during deep sleep. We presented the acoustic stimuli whenever a slow oscillation “up state” was upcoming, and in this way we were able to strengthen the slow oscillation, showing higher amplitude and occurring for longer periods.”

In previous research, sound stimulation has been tested, but has been unsuccessful. In the current study, the authors point out that the frequency of the sounds was in sync with the participants’ brain waves. If this method can be developed more, it could be used as a technique to improve sleep in general and improve brain activity when people are awake.

Dr. Born concluded, “Moreover, it might be even used to enhance other brain rhythms with obvious functional significance — like rhythms that occur during wakefulness and are involved in the regulation of attention.”

The connection between memory and sleep has been well known. A separate study carried out earlier this year reported that poor sleep can cause significant memory loss and brain deterioration.

Another study, conducted by the University of Stanford, concluded that interrupted sleep impairs memory.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald