Study: Sleep Enhances Motor Skill Learning

sleepSleep. We all know that it has a substantial amount of benefits, including yielding boosts of energy and contributing to your relaxation efforts. Sleeping is a natural part of living that allows our bodies to rest usually after long, physically stimulating days.

While we are sleep during the night, our bodies rest in virtually motionless positions, our eyes close and our breathing becomes more calm and steady. Ideally speaking, this allows our bodies to feel energized and rejuvenated in preparation for the following day. So we can easily identify the many ways that sleep aids our physical wellbeing but what, if anything, does it do for the brain?

A recent study conducted by members of the American Physical Therapy Association, concluded that getting some shut-eye can also enhance the learning of functional motor skills, especially in young adults. The study used a group of 24 participants with an average age of 25 years old, and split the group into two subgroups: sleep and non-sleep. Each group was then taught the same walking exercise.

The sleep group learned and practiced the walking exercise in the evening and was made to demonstrate the exercise routine the following morning after a full night’s rest. The non-sleep group, on the other hand, learned the walking exercise in the morning and had to attempt to perform it later in the evening. The results from the study revealed that the sleep group was much more successful at performing the walking exercise with accuracy and velocity.

Functional motor skills are voluntary movements that are learned and require the use of muscle. Furthermore functional motor skills are generally skills that are needed to perform a task of some sort. Because functional motor skills are learned, they usually increase in difficulty as we get older. For example, babies between the ages of 3-6 months learn a simple motor skill such as sitting up straight, however as they get older they come to learn more difficult motor skills such as walking, jumping, and balancing.

So what does the link between sleep and functional motor skills have to do with physical therapy? The ability to perform certain motor skills can diminish after experiences or tragedies that cause dramatic physical impairments. A car crash, bad fall, or certain medical conditions are just a few examples of things that can potentially harm your body’s ability to actively complete functional motor skills. Physical therapists are highly trained to deal with patients who require relearning of motor skills after these types of incidents.

The results of the study mentioned should be taken into account for the purpose of treatment options. If physical therapists are made aware of the fact that sleep can potentially play a major role in the improvement of motor skill learning and relearning, treatment options will be made to be more effective.

For more information on the study mentioned in this article click here, and for more information regarding RPI’s motor skill rehabilitation methods contact one of our local offices.