Students have always pored over their books far into the night, hard-working and conscientious in their pursuit of learning.
Today it is possible to be equally conscientious without working nearly so hard. It is, in fact, possible to sleep on the subject—quite literally—and learn it faster and more thoroughly than the most determined application allowed in the past.
This new aid to education is called sleep-learning.
Sleep-learning, a very young science, is based on the receptivity of the subconscious to suggestion and instruction during the sleeping period.
Its principles were known to the ancients. In Egypt, priests recited the scriptures to sleeping novitiates in specially built slumber temples, believing that this method would hasten the learning process. In both Egypt and Greece, people brought their problems to such temples. There, priests whispered helpful suggestions in their ears while they slept. The nocturnal advice dealt with matters of health, general living and the encouragement of confidence.
In informal ways we have been applying the principle of sleep-learning all along. We often decide to "sleep on" a problem we have been unable to solve and awake with the answer.
While we are asleep, some watchful part of us prevents us from rolling out of bed, or pulls the covers up when they have slipped. Mothers who sleep through traffic noises, thunderstorms and husbands' snoring awake at the slightest sound from their babies. The subconscious functions while we sleep and it has been proven that it can be directed into channels of our choice.
In 1932, Aldous Huxley envisioned a new world in which hypnopaedia (sleep-teaching) would be used for purposes of conditioning future citizens along lines considered useful for the state, rather than for intellectual improvement. The methods Huxley described are almost identical with those now in use.
He speaks of a continuous, repetitious whisper under the pillow. The degree of his prophetic talent is apparent to people familiar with sleep-learning equipment, in which a pillow-speaker is attached to a clock-controlled phonograph or tape-recorder. The speaker's volume is just loud enough to reach only the ear of the sleep-learner and the material is repeated several times during the night.
More than a quarter of a century later, in Brave New World Revisited, Huxley discussed the facts then known about hypnopaedia. He was concerned about the possibility of misuse but, at the same time, recognized that factual material was being taught successfully to sleeping people.
Responsible proponents of sleep-learning point out that the same possibility exists in many scientific fields, but that this risk should not keep us from making use of the beneficial aspects of this new technique.
The Sleep-Learning Research Association's statement of policy reads in part:
Because we have reported what some are doing in this field, in no way do we mean to imply that sleep-therapy (induced auto-suggestion by the sleep-learning method) is a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment.
Moreover, because some people are not susceptible to suggestion (science says 10% are not), we cannot specifically guarantee that your attempt in sleep-learning will be successful, should you try it. What nocturnal education will do in the future, when all its implications will be realized and exploited, we cannot yet say.
The Association further writes that it finds, despite "a certain amount of hocus pocus," it cannot scoff at the results of the do-it-yourself psychology known as sleep-therapy in view of the many letters attesting astonishing improvement.
Though there is comparatively little factual material available on the subject, research is being carried on to test the theory that one can learn while asleep.
Notable among the studies whose findings have led to worldwide experimentation are the work at the University of North Carolina, the University of California, William and Mary, Parsons Training School, U.C.L.A., Georgetown University and the Institute of Logopedics.
There is considerable interest in some medical circles about the pain-reducing or pain-eliminating faculties of sleep-suggestion.
It is known that childbirth has been rendered painless this way. Indeed, in 1951, the Soviet Union passed a law making it compulsory for doctors to use this method on every mother-to-be.
Although many doctors still question sleep-learning, there are a growing number who, after investigation, are beginning to apply its principles.
Psychiatrists have evinced particular interest in its potential value in therapy. A May, 1960, article in a leading New York newspaper reported on a paper presented to the Scientific Session of the American Psychiatric Association in Atlantic City by Dr. M. Ralph Kaufman, of the Mount Sinai Hospital, which stated:
The situation at present is such that psychoanalysis that began as hypnotherapy . . . has now given us the kind of understanding of hypnotic suggestion which again makes it available as a therapeutic measure for psychotherapy.
Sleep-learning advocates claim that at least 8,000 college students supplement their daytime work with sleep-study. Testimonials from high school and college students indicate better results in examinations resulting from their use of sleep-learning techniques. Language instructors as well as their students report that this method of study speeds up the learning process considerably.
A mid-Western lecturer states that his memorization rate increased by 75%.
A blind student finds the technique uniquely helpful and practical.
Parents write that young children, whose studies involve a considerable amount of rote-learning, benefit greatly.
The memory training qualities of this technique seem to be of particular value to people who must remember specialized data. Television presented to the American public a young man who learned conversational French while asleep, under controlled test conditions.
After only one week of sleep-learning, he was examined by Dr. Adrian Miller, Professor of Romance Languages at U.C.L.A., on the television program, "You Asked For It." The professor's judgment was that the young man had absorbed the equivalent of a SEMESTER of classroom study.
Others report considerable help in the learning or appreciation of music. Television actors, among them Larry Blyden and Marilyn Erskine, have learned complete roles quickly with the aid of sleep-learning equipment.
Chilean opera star Ramon Vinay not only quickly memorized a leading operatic role but also learned to sing it in perfect, accentless Italian. Equally successful results have been reported by people of various language backgrounds in learning English, again free from foreign accent.
At the Institute of Logopedics, in Wichita, Kansas, where experiments were conducted to find out whether nocturnal education could help cure speech defects, the results showed that students who heard a list of words while they were sleeping memorized and improved much faster than the control group which did not apply sleep-learning.
Numerous famous personalities have attested to the benefits of sleep-study. Alexander de Seversky eliminated his Russian accent. Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson have learned lines and lyrics in this way.
Perhaps the most impressive example of the retentive powers of the subconscious during sleep is that of Art Linkletter, radio and television star. Linkletter offered to test the theory by attempting to sleep-learn the most difficult language in the world—Mandarin Chinese.
After sleep-studying for only ten nights, Linkletter invited the Vice Consul of China to his TV show, introduced him to the audience, and then proceeded to engage in a pleasant conversation with his guest in Mandarin Chinese.
The Vice Consul's verdict was that Linkletter was indeed conversant in the language and would be able to travel throughout China and be understood perfectly by anyone who speaks the elegant Mandarin dialect.
It is now known that during World War II, members of the armed forces of the United States were taught the Morse Code and foreign languages, in a necessarily brief period, with the aid of sleep-learning. The renowned Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) taught its agents not only languages but also accents, slang and custom of the countries to be infiltrated. They learned quickly and thoroughly.
An oil company in Arabia employs sleep-learning for teaching English to its native employees and Arabic to its American staff.
In 1955, Canada's Department of National Defense used sleep-learning in the training of Royal Canadian Air Force personnel. These men scored consistently higher than a control group of non-users.
Business has been quick to recognize how sleep-learning can help build up sales. The Wall Street Journal of March 14, 1958, reported on a group of corporations using sleep-learning self-confidence-development sales courses to bolster the effectiveness of their salesmen.
This approach has also proved invaluable to many who must remember special technical facts or figures. A railroad dispatcher memorized the entire passenger train schedule of the Union Pacific Railroad in 10 days. A post office employee memorized the postal zones of 16,000 streets.
A television announcer memorized commercials accurately and quickly and remembered them at will while on the air. A production executive in a large advertising firm memorized nearly 600 telephone numbers of frequent usage.
Unusual and successful experiments in sleep-teaching are reported by a professor who taught Greek to his five-year-old child by whispering in his ear as he slept; by a pastor whose eleven-year-old son memorized four pages of poetry overnight (while the rest of his class learned two pages in a week); by a man who taught his parakeet 1,300 words; by a 63-year-old grandmother who is memorizing the New Testament; by a writer who is memorizing the dictionary at the rate of three pages a night.
Psychotherapists submit favorable reports on the use of sleep-teaching techniques for implanting therapeutic suggestions in the subconscious mind to supplement treatment during waking hours.
"There appears to be enough evidence to indicate that treatment during sleep is not only possible in theory but also effective in practice," writes Dr. Ernst Schmidhofer, chief of the Neuropsychiatric Service of the Memphis Veteran's Administration Hospital.
Psychologists have also reported success in breaking bad habits ranging from over-eating to speech defects. Mothers, following their suggestions, have been able to train their children out of thumb sucking, bed wetting and nail biting through the use of sleep recordings.
Since certain diseases and mental disorders are the psychosomatic symptoms of a subconscious block, it is felt that the inner conflict must be recognized and faced consciously by the patient in order to overcome the problem. Since suggestion is the tool of psychotherapy, it must be concluded that pre-recorded therapeutic messages (sleep tapes) can take their rightful place beside drugs and hypnosis as an effective device for reaching the subconscious.
Certainly the cases reported indicate that there is a great value potential in this form of therapy. It has been stated that sleep-suggestion may eventually replace hypnosis medically, since doctors and psychiatrists can make a tape more easily than they can apply direct hypnosis. The Sleep-Learning Research Association reports some experiences of a Florida doctor in which response to this form of therapy resulted in a cure:
Other successfully resolved cases included a chronic stutterer, an insomniac, an alcoholic and a case of loss of hearing.
This doctor was particularly interested in a reaction common to patients using sleep-tapes which psychiatrists refer to as "ventilation." He feels it is a remarkable discovery which has answered many questions for him.
"After using the tapes nightly for a time," he writes, "hidden complexes and causes of tension are brought to the surface. Temporarily, one feels worse than ever, but after a few hours, the patient recovers and these feelings do not return. They have been Ventilated. This is a method for applying mental catharsis, which, in my judgment, is better than the old method of 'talking it out'
"I have had several such problems myself, which, upon analysis, were ventilated and did not return. I liken this to pouring clean water continually from a hose into a barrel of bad water. In time, the bad water is brought to the surface where it is disposed of and replaced by good, clean water.
"For, just as the subconscious can and will answer back with what it contains," concludes the doctor, "so the continuous pumping into the subconscious of powerful, positive suggestions will bring a like response after the hidden and negative complexes are removed by Ventilation"
What does all this mean to laymen?