Have you been trying to learn a new skill but, no matter how hard you try, it doesn't stick in your memory? Maybe you should take a nap to help jog your memory, scientists suggest.
Researchers from the Northwestern University suggest memories could be reactivated and strengthened during sleep.
The study focuses on how sleep could help you learn a new musical instrument.
Professor Ken Paller told Huffpost Lifestyle: "There are many other types of memory to test, as well as other types of cues and other learning situations. We have not tested whether results differ by age or gender, or treatment of memory difficulties using this [technique]."
Scroll down to discover HuffPost's round-up of inspiring bed designs (PICTURES)
"Our results extend prior research by showing that external stimulation during sleep can influence a complex skill," added Paller in a statement.
During the study, a group of participants learned how to play two musical tunes.
How To Maximise Your Brain Power
Top tips from <em><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Maximum-Brainpower-Challenging-Health-Wisdom/dp/184850957X" target="_hplink">Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom</a></em>, by <strong>Shlomo Breznitz</strong> and <strong>Collins Hemingway</strong>.
Have 'Smart' Hobbies
"Chess, bridge, and difficult puzzles all stimulate the brain. The problem with most puzzles, however, is that they often have underlying patterns that the brain quickly figures out. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other mental games quickly lose their ability to stimulate the brain and hence their ability to keep you cognitively fit. The beauty of chess and bridge is that both provide increasing levels of difficulty as you become more skilled. Both are difficult to truly master; as a result, they provide continual mental stimulation. That is always the goal: to find ways to keep the brain continually involved - not let it become lazy."
"The more education you have - no matter when in your life you get it - the more cognitively fit you will become. The main benefit of college is that it provides more interesting and challenging career choices. College also tends to match you with better educated life partners and a more affluent lifestyle, both of which offer more stimulating leisure activities. If your college work was not optimal, or you did not attend college, pursue as many educational opportunities as possible later in life. Whether job related or for personal edification, ongoing education will build cognitive strength that will benefit you later on. Early is better, but it's never too late."
Learn New Skills
"Playing a musical instrument or learning a new language - or taking up either again after many years' absence - is a marvelous way to stimulate the brain. By challenging the brain in ways totally unrelated to everyday life, difficult new skills stimulate brain growth. Even though young people generally pick up music and language and other skills much faster than adults, adults may benefit even more, precisely because they have to work harder mentally to achieve the same results. The increased cognitive abilities carry over to other aspects of life and work."
"The more challenging your life work, the more stimulated your brain becomes, and the greater cognitive reserves you build. These cognitive reserves protect against mental decline as you age. Whether the occupation primarily involves people (sales, human resources, etc.), things (construction, manufacturing, etc.), or data (financial analysis, software programming, etc.), the most important thing is the overall complexity of the occupation and the number of years that you do the complex work. In the workplace itself, you should seek the most difficult assignments. Such work not only prepares you for senior positions in the company but also builds cognitive strength. The cumulative impact of education and challenging work is staggering--reducing the odds of Alzheimer's by as much as two-thirds."
"Going new places is one of the most stimulating things you can do for your mind. Travel incorporates many of the other nine elements: exposure to new locations, sights and sounds; exposure to new people, culture, and (often) language; more and different kinds of physical exercise. But you don't have to travel the globe; even hikes and campouts or trips to nearby towns will do. Just someplace different. Perhaps more than anything, travel gets you out of your ordinary routine and your ordinary experiences. It stimulates the brain in every way imaginable."
Master Something New
"The only thing that builds neurons in the brains of adults is learning. By definition, learning is the mastery of something new. The most critical element for keeping the brain healthy is to take on new challenges and experiences. This includes doing familiar things differently. Something as simple as taking a new route to work (or riding the bus if you normally drive) is beneficial. Another tack is to avoid routine activities as much as possible. If your job is humdrum, find ways to automate it so you can tackle more challenging work that often goes undone. Most companies have learned that the way to improve quality and productivity is to engage workers--usually through self-managed teams. These organizations not only perform better by getting the best of everyone's ideas, but the individuals benefit cognitively. Boredom is a sure sign that you are becoming cognitively flabby."
Re-Train Your Brain
"Just as you need regular exercise for your body, you need regular exercise for your brain. Daily life does not provide enough stimulation or mental variety to keep the brain at its mental peak. Computer-based cognitive training programs provide the same "toning" benefits to the mind that good exercise programs provide to the body. These programs should include individualization and a steady increase in difficulty as you improve. Such programs should be scientifically validated. The goal of cognitive training is not to get better on computer tests or games but to improve your actual functioning in the real world."
"Whether it is having dinner with old friends or getting to know new people, socialisation is one of the most important aspects of keeping cognitively fit. The main reason is that human relationships are so complex and subtle that they require great mental attention and flexibility. Plus, the social activity itself can be quite stimulating - a quiet conversation over coffee, intellectually engaging talk at a book club, or a physical activity such as golf or a hike in the woods. The people who maintain their cognitive abilities the best through life are those who maintain a high degree of interaction with the world and the people around them."
"This closely relates to novelty. The greater the variety of your activities, the better it is for the brain, because every different thing you do stimulates the brain in different ways. The brain will benefit more if you tackle different kinds of leisure activities than if you become expert at any one. The brain will become stronger if you take different kinds classes, such as math and English, than if you take similar kinds of classes, such as math and physics. If your work is primarily data oriented, then your brain will benefit the most if you do something with people outside of the office, and vice versa. Seek to do as many different kinds of things as you can, in as many different ways as you can."
"Strangely enough, physical exercise itself stimulates the growth of neurons in the brain. No one is certain why. One theory is that people form new brain cells in preparation for a new environment. Jogging down a tree-lined street or on a treadmill in a fitness club may trigger the same biological response as when human ancestors once prepared to track game or explore the far horizons. Studies show that the more you work your body, the more you grow your brain! And the healthier you are, the more likely you are to tackle other activities that also stimulate the brain. Exercise is also good for "shaking out the cobwebs" in the middle of a hard day at work--both stimulating the brain and changing the mental context, giving the chance for new ideas to pop up."
The participants then took a 90-minute nap. During this time, researchers played one of the tunes that had been practiced.
Using electroencephalography (EEG) methods to record the brain's electrical activity, the researchers ensured the soft musical 'cues' were played to participants during ‘slow-wave sleep’ (a stage of sleep previously linked to cementing memories).
When the participants woke up and resumed their instrument practice, researchers noted fewer errors were made when volunteers practised the melody they had heard while sleeping.
Fellow study author, Paul Reber, said the study demonstrates possible ways to strengthen skills you've already learned.
"Rather than learning something new in your sleep, we're talking about enhancing an existing memory by re-activating information recently acquired."
The study's results will soon be published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Is a good night's sleep crucial to your memory? Take a look at creative ways to get some shut-eye, with HuffPost's round-up of bizarre beds...
Lying down to sleep is <em>so</em> last year... Image credit: <a href="http://vectroave.com/2010/07/ernesto-neto-art-installations/" target="_hplink"><strong>Ernesto Neto</strong></a>
Perfect for those who sleep in the foetal position. Not so great for fidgets. <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/bed-you-don-t-want-to-roll-over-in " target="_hplink"><strong>Tech Blog</strong></a>
Claustrophobics look away now... <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.coffinitup.com/catbed.htm " target="_hplink"><strong>Coffinitup.com</strong></a>
Need a nap on the go? Look no further than this futuristic-looking sleep pod. <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://dornob.com/pod-beds-futuristic-sleepers-for-on-the-job-napping/?ref=search" target="_hplink"><strong>Dornob.com</strong></a>
Star Wars fans rejoice - you really can go to space without leaving your bed. <strong>Image credit:</strong> 'Star Wars Millennium Falcon Bed' as seen on <a href="http://www.toxel.com/inspiration/2009/12/13/star-wars-millennium-falcon-bed/" target="_hplink"><strong>Toxel.com</strong></a>
Sleep On A Sandwich
Hot on the heels of the hamburger bed (see pics), sleep on a sandwich instead! <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.kidznooz.com/?p=1188" target="_hplink"><strong>Kidznooz.com</strong></a>
'Hold Me' Bed
Great for those who sleep perfectly still. Hellish for those who toss and turn. <strong>Image credit:</strong> 'Aije Hold Me bed' by <a href="http://www.tovdesign.com/+ " target="_hplink"><strong>Trov Design</strong></a>.
The Mermaid Bed
Sleep in complete peace in this oyster shell bed - just make sure you don't get locked in! <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/" target="_hplink"><strong>Buzzfeed</strong></a>/ <a href="http://glitterontoast.tumblr.com/post/2892744282/w-a-n-t" target="_hplink"><strong>glitterontoast.tumblr</strong></a>
Literally roll into bed with this rollercoaster design. Image credit: <a href="http://www.kidznooz.com/?p=1188" target="_hplink"><strong>Kidznooz.com</strong></a>.
Sleep in serene peacefulness in this portable, hanging bed. <strong>Image credit:</strong> 'Nest Bed' by <a href="http://www.dedon.de/en/collections/detail/collection/nestrest-171/hanging-lounger-1412/chalk-75.html" target="_hplink"><strong>Dedon</strong></a>.
Is it us or does this bed look<em> painful</em>? <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://luxury-furniture-design.net/modern/2010/11/most-strange-beds-in-the-world-part-i/" target="_hplink"><strong>Luxury furniture design</strong></a>.
Surround yourself with the outside - inside. <strong>Image credit:</strong> Crazy horse free form bed/ <a href="http://www.lafuente.com/Cabin-Furniture/Aspen-Log-Furniture/Beds-and-Bunk-Beds/5462/" target="_hplink"><strong>La Fuente</strong></a>.
Roll Around Bed
'Rock' yourself to sleep (literally) in this ultra modern bed. <strong>Image credit:</strong> 'Rundflug' bed, as seen on <a href="http://www.private-cloud.de/galerie.php" target="_hplink"><strong>Private Cloud</strong></a>.
Upright Snooze Capsules
Can't make it into bed? Collapse in one of this upright snooze pods. <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/sleeping-on-the-job-el-zulo#!/photos/23870/1" target="_hplink"><strong>Trendhunter</strong></a>.
This curved cocoon bed blocks out the world. Pretty cool we think. <strong>Image credit:</strong> <a href="http://www.lomme.com/Home/tabid/194/language/en-US/Default.aspx" target="_hplink"><strong>Lomme.com</strong></a>