Learning a new language while sleeping…Sound too good to be true? It might not be. Read on to learn about the possibility of improving your Spanish in your sleep and the role of sleep in the learning process.

An optimistic study: “Boosting Vocabulary Learning by Verbal Cueing During Sleep”

There’s at least some evidence to show that our brains can continue learning even while we sleep.

A 2014 study by two Swiss universities sought to find out if exposure to words in a foreign language during sleep could help study participants memorize these words more effectively.

Their overall conclusion: “Reactivating memories during sleep by re-exposure to associated memory cues…improves memory consolidation….Our results indicate that verbal cues presented during NonREM sleep reactivate associated memories, and facilitate later recall of foreign vocabulary.”

In other words, yes, hearing vocabulary words in your sleep can help you remember them!

There are a couple of finer points to note, however. First, the researches mention “NonREM” (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the deep sleep that we generally get earlier in the night, within a few hours of falling asleep.

Second, the researchers presented people with the new vocabulary at 10pm, before they fell asleep. When the words were repeated during sleep, they were already somewhat familiar.

Main Takeaway: If you want to try improving your Spanish while you sleep, play audio of words you’ve already learned (or at least been exposed to) during the first half of the night.

Still skeptical? You can try this method out for a few nights to see how well it works for you. You might design a little self-experiment with the following steps:

  • Create a word list of new vocabulary you want to memorize.
  • In the evening, work your way through the wordlist.
  • During NonREM sleep, listen to audio of half of the words on this list.
  • In the morning, quiz yourself to see how well you remember everything on the wordlist.
  • Evaluate: Did you have an easier time remembering the words on your sleep audio track? Or is your recall of both groups of words more or less the same?
  • Repeat

Listening to Spanish while you sleep requires basically no effort, so skeptical or not, you might as well give it a try!

Programs to help you learn Spanish while you sleep

There are many programs out there that make it easy to listen to Spanish while you sleep. There are also tons of audio-based Spanish programs that can be adapted for use whether you’re awake or asleep. Here are some of the best:

Sleep Learning Spanish

The Sleep Learning YouTube channel covers all sorts of things, from the periodic table to capital cities to Japanese. They’ve got four (long) Spanish videos, three of which are three hours long, and one of which is a whopping ten hours. These videos include Spanish phrases and conversations.

Learn While You Sleep

Next up, there’s Learn While You Sleep, which publishes tons of Spanish content. They have flashcard videos (meant for use while awake). Then there are videos that play words and phrases with calm bedtime music. You might put on these videos as you wind down in the evening.

Finally, there are some relaxing made-for-sleep videos, featuring background noise like thunderstorms or calming white noise interspersed with Spanish/English word pairs. There are long intervals in between each word pair.

If you already like to sleep with some form of white noise, then these videos might be perfect for you.

Spanish Head Start

This app is specifically designed for use whether you’re awake or asleep. You can set it on a timer and it will continue to play for as long as you decide, even if you drift off. Plus, it’s free!

Barron’s Mastering Spanish Vocabulary

This vocabulary-intensive book contains over 13,000 words and comes with audio MP3s (including around 10 hours total of audio) that you can play while you sleep. You can study a section in the book during the evening before getting to the audio.

For many intermediate language learners, vocabulary is a major sticking point. You might have a good grasp of grammar, but if you don’t know enough words, there’s a limit to how much you can say and understand.

A solid vocabulary builder like this one helps boost your vocabulary dramatically. It’s organized into thematic sections (for example: scientific terms, business terms, clothing, food and dining, arts and culture, household items). This makes it easy to dive right in with vocabulary relevant to your needs.

Sleep is good for you.

Finally, I’ll just point out the obvious: Getting a good night’s sleep is really good for you, your brain, and your overall health.

While the jury may still be out on how effective “sleep learning” can be, there is ample research documenting the many benefits of sleep, particularly for memory and learning.

We can think of learning as a three-step process:

  • Acquisition: We encounter new ideas, concepts, and stimuli and therefore learn new things.
  • Consolidation: Our new memories take on a more stable, solid form (rather than just going “in one ear and out the other”).
  • Recall: We are able to access memories and information; we remember what we have learned.

Sleep plays an important role in this process—as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to learn a new skill the day after pulling an all-nighter.

If you’re tired, you’ll struggle more with the acquisition phase of learning. You may find it more difficult to focus or remain motivated. So, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep before trying to learn new things.

You should also aim to get a good night’s sleep after learning something new. Your brain can process, consolidate, and store new memories best if it has adequate rest.

Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to poorer performance and learning outcomes. If you struggle to remain well-rested, check out the resources here: “Getting the Sleep You Need.”

Learning and remembering rely so much on sleep, even if you do all your studying when you’re awake.

It’s much easier to learn things when you’re alert and well-rested, able to devote your full energies to learning Spanish. And your brain does a much better job of processing everything if it’s given a chance to rest.

If nothing else, it’s essential to sleep well so that you can increase your productivity and well-being during your waking hours.