It really seems so easy. Just put on the CD or tapes, relax in bed and learn English (or another foreign language) while you sleep. Have you ever seen those ads that say, “Learn English While Sleeping” or that promise “effortless” language learning by listening to a tape or CD while you relax or take a nap? With the continual rise in the study of English as a foreign or second language, (EFL, ESL) progressive TEFL English and foreign language teachers, foreign language learners, and educational administrators need to be aware of the implications posed by claims of “learning English (or another foreign language) while you sleep. To better understand the processes involved let’s first look at each of them individually in turn. In this first part of the series, we’ll examine the elements of sleep.
What is Sleep?
The state of sleep is generally defined as “the resting state in which the body is not active and the mind is unconscious.” A more extensive definition is offered by Webster’s New World Dictionary (third ed., 1989); “sleep: a natural, regularly occurring condition of rest for the body and mind, during which the eyes are usually closed and there is little or no conscious thought or voluntary movement, but there is intermittent dreaming”.
Sleep is also likened to death. In the Holy Bible (NWT, 1981) at John 11: 11 Jesus says, “Lazarus or friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” Then in verse 14 Jesus clarifies his meaning of “sleep”, “At that time, therefore, Jesus said to them outspokenly: Lazarus has died.” In describing death the bible continues at Ecclesiastes 9: 5 stating, “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” Sleep then, is characterized as a condition typically devoid of conscious thought. Have you ever slept through a severe thunder storm, a series of car alarms going off, an explosion, an earth tremor (minor earthquake) or dogs barking loudly at night? Completely unconscious, right? For even further clarification, here are some characteristics of human sleep.
Characteristics of Sleep
Characteristics of sleep in humans are:
o lying down, if possible although sleep is possible in almost any position according to studies done on astronauts and in sleep study centers
o Eyes are closed, but sleep can occur with opened eyes in an environment devoid of light and / or distraction
o You don’t hear anything or do not consciously respond to external sounds depending on the level, depth or stage of sleep
o Slow, rhythmic breathing pattern (which might be altered during dream stage)
o Muscles are completely relaxed with the exception of altered states of sleep or reaction to dreams or abnormal physical conditions
o Person may occasionally roll over changing positions
Stages of Sleep
On the average, a person goes through five stages, or levels of sleep. The stages each have distinctive characteristics and determine what the brain and body are capable of.
o Stage One – 4-5% Light sleep. Muscle activity slows down
o Stage Two – 45-55% Breathing and heart rate slows. Body temperature decreases
o Stage Three – 4-6% Deep sleep. Slow Delta waves begin
o Stage Four – 12-15% Very deep sleep; brain produces Delta waves
o Stage Five – 20-25% Rapid eye movement (REM); dreaming occurs
Why Do We Sleep?
For the most part, sleep allows several vital functions to take place. It is an essential physical and mental state with which we cannot do without. Our sleep allows us:
o To repair muscles and other tissues
o To replace aging or dead cells
o An opportunity for the brain to organize and archive memories, that is in part, to transfer data and memories from short to long-term memory
o Lowers energy consumption (balance of enzyme production achieved, i.e. blood glucose levels, electrolyte levels, etc.)
o To recharge the brain (diminished supplies of fluids and enzymes in organs and lymphatic system can be replenished during sleep)
How Much Sleep?
Most young adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, but the quantity of sleep required can vary depending on age, daily activity, diet, nutrition and other physical and / or psychological factors. Sleep deprivation can directly affect:
o Short term memory
o Physical health
o Emotional health
With 30 to 40 million Americans suffering from serious sleep-related disorders, the effect of sleep on learning and cognitive competencies is of serious concern.
In the next segment of this series, “Learn A Foreign Language While You Sleep: Theoretical Approaches”, we’ll look at both recent and current language-learning theories and approaches and how some might seemingly provide some support for these claims.