Can Language Learning Happen During Sleep?

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Lorea Lastiri
Lorea Lastiri

Turns out you can learn a second language while you sleep.

According to a recent study from the University of Bern in Switzerland, people can learn words in another language during deep levels of sleep. Other studies that involve mice show evidence that sleep learning is quite a reality.

The average human being spends about eight hours per night sleeping. If this routine continues for 75 years, they spend around two hundred and 22,000 hours just sleeping. That’s huge!

You can use some of this sleep time to learn a language. So what’s the science behind sleep learning, and how can you exactly do this?

In this article, we will explore this emerging finding and highlight the steps you can take to learn a language as you sleep!

How to learn a language while sleeping      

Whether you are interested in learning Spanish or improving your verbal skills in German, now sleeping can be a fun way to achieve your goal.

The first study around this topic took place in 1995. Since then, there have been tons of studies that show that sleep learning can be effective.

1. Learn the vocabulary

The first step to learn a language is to build your vocabulary and learn the words. This is because you cannot actually learn a new language while sleeping but only retain and relearn what you already know.

This is why it is recommended to spend around 30 to 40 minutes every day learning new words, using them in the sentences, searching for their synonyms, and using them in your everyday conversations.

2. Listen to an audio of foreign words

It is not only essential to practice the vocabulary you are learning but also to hear their pronunciations. You can do this by practicing the words via YouTube videos. An even better way is to converse with people who are well-versed in the language.

You can perhaps watch shows and movies in the language you are learning. Or maybe you can record yourself pronouncing the words and use the audio to practice.

3. Play the audio while sleeping

Now it’s time to sleep.

You can set the audio in such a manner that it plays for two to three hours of sleep. However, make sure that the audio -only contains the vocabulary you have practiced and memorized.

The practical way to learn while sleeping is to play the audio of foreign words you have already listened to. This is why the previous step is so important.

4. Recall and practice

Once you wake up after a sound sleep, you should take a quiz on your own to test what you can recall. This will help you to evaluate your memory and whether this method is working for you or not.

Remember, people learn in different ways. So if this method works for some, it might not work for others. But it is still worth a shot.

What you need to know about sleep learning, and why does it matter to your language learning experience?

Before you brush your teeth and make your bed for sleeping, there are some things you should know about sleep learning.

1. Sleep learning only reinforces what you know

Studies conducted on this topic have shown that sleep learning does not work if you are trying to learn new information. It is only beneficial if you want to reinforce what your brain already knows.

This is why it is important to remember key elements of the language you want to learn, such as its vocabulary.

2) The sleep cycle

To understand why you cannot learn a new language while sleeping, it is vital to understand how the sleep cycle works.

Two stages occur when sleeping. These include the Rapid Eye Movement or REM and the Non-Rapid Eye Movement, also known as non-REM.

During the REM stages, your brain decodes the things you have learned throughout the day. You also dream during this stage. The non-REM stage is also divided into four stages.

Accordingly, your brain goes through different stages when you sleep, which collectively make up a stage cycle.

Each cycle can last anywhere from 1 hour to an hour and a half. Once a cycle ends, another begins and keeps on repeating until you finally wake up.

Here, it is important to note that since these stages only involve decoding what you have learned or experienced throughout the day, you cannot take in new information while sleeping. You merely remember what your brain has already stored.

3. Conditioning and learning

Various studies on this topic center around the idea of conditioning, where your brain or behaviors can be conditioned to learn something.

The 2012 study in the journal of Nature Neuroscience suggested that people can end up associating sounds with odors as they sleep. The researchers played some tons while the participants were sleeping and eventually released a nasty smell of spoiled fish.

When the participants woke up, some people anticipated the bad sleep under their breaths when they heard the tone again. The researchers suggested that this means the brain can develop new memories even while sleeping,

However, there is still a lot of research needed to prove that such is the case.

Another group of researchers played some made-up words and their meanings when the participants were sleeping. For instance, “guga” meant elephant in the audio.

When the participants woke up, they performed better when they had to pick the translation for the made-up word when appearing for a multiple-choice test.

Studies like these show that people have implicit forms of memory. But it is difficult to use them in normal settings because people might not even be aware of what they know.

Plus, it is crucial to practice what the person already knows to avoid forgetting the memories or learned material.

These studies further showcase that learning a new language is not as simple as merely sleeping. Instead, it is a complicated process of getting familiar with the sounds, learning new words, and practicing grammar.

Therefore, where some studies suggest that it might be possible for humans to recognize tones and accents of a language when sleeping, it takes place only at a weaker level.

4. There are some costs involved

According to the researchers, stimulating the brain to learn new information while sleeping can disturb sleep functions and even negatively affect memory.

Losing the quality of sleep can make it difficult what you had remembered over the previous day.

This is why it is essential to understand the trade-off that occurs when you tune the brain to absorb new information. Yet, it can still be helpful if some people want to change a disturbing memory or a habit.

Are some languages harder to learn while sleeping?

There is no relevant research to suggest that some languages are harder to learn while sleeping.

The research suggests that if you are not familiar with the words being played or you haven’t practiced enough, it will be hard to learn any sort of language.

Sure some languages are harder to learn even when you are awake. Take Latin, for example.

Everyone will agree that this ancient language is quite challenging to grasp, practice, and understand. In this way, you should practice the vocabulary regularly and not rely on sleep learning only to learn the language efficiently.


Sleep learning is one of the fascinating fields of study these days. However, there is still a lot of research needed in this area to prove that you can learn a new language while sleeping.

As it is, you can learn a language while you sleep only if you’ve heard the words before.

If you want to learn a language while you sleep, start by practising before bedtime. Then when you sleep, let the audio play.

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