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Dream your way to greatness

February 20, 2012 - Burton Cole (humor columnist)

Here's a nightmare for you: Scientists say that dreaming about a task makes us better at it.

Great. I'm either destined to either be an international spy who chases cows up an escalator, or running a road race that somehow winds through an alligator swamp and into a crowded grocery store before I realize that I forgot to dress for the race. Or for anything. I'm pulling for the cows. (So's everyone at the store.)

Anyway, researchers at the Sleep Disorders Unit at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris liken the sleeping brain to a "neural virtual reality." Why spend bunches of bucks on a Wii when you already pack one in your pillow?

The brain at sleep replays the patterns of activity it experienced during waking hours, the researchers claim.

That's curious. I have never dunked a basketball in a half-century of wakeful life. But asleep, I'm a regular rim rat, throwing down one jam after another. (True, it helps when you can fly. The rule book says nothing against that.)

For their experiment, the scientists taught some dance moves to patients with problems such as sleep walking. One scientific dance student then wiggled through all the steps while still lying in bed sound asleep. The scientific choreographers say that indicates that we practice in our dreams what we learn during the day.

I don't recall learning how to flee from whales that leap out of the churning ocean and chug after me on their fins while I row a motor boat across a grassy field. But I dreamed it. And my wife shook me awake because I kept hitting her with the oars.

The important thing is if I ever find myself back in school (in my dreams, it's finals week and I suddenly remember a class I forgot to attend all semester), now I know how to study -- sleep on it.

In the journal Current Biology, Harvard Medical School researchers reported that students who dreamed about a computer maze they learned before falling asleep were 10 times better at the maze than students who dreamed about other things (such as cows on an escalator, I presume).

So, if you need to ace, say, a geography exam, wait until you're nearly asleep, crack open the book and begin reading. If you fall asleep with the book on your chest, you'll wake up knowing where to find Malaysia. (On Page 142, I think.)

I'm afraid to fall asleep now. I just read my Donald Duck comic book. That means I might wake up with the urge to leap off a hammock and chase chipmunks around the yard. It beats that running through the grocery store in my underwear thing, though.


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Burton Cole and dream friends on the run.


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