All-night cram sessions are commonplace for students. But even though we know being sleep-deprived could be counter-productive, it seems learning doesn’t have to stop just because we nod off.

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute found using a combination of sounds and smells actually makes our subconscious minds stand up and pay attention, which means we may be able to learn new things even while we’re asleep.

The “sounds and scents” combo seemed to create new connections in the brain, making study subjects seek out a stimulus if it was removed. So, for example, people who’d associated a sound with a particular smell would continue to sniff the air when the sound was played — even if the smell itself was gone.

The fact that the brain continues to make such associations even during shuteye could lead to “learning while sleeping” techniques. Still, some experts are concerned, saying that since many of us are already on overload when we’re awake, perhaps we should declare dreamland strictly off-limits to give our minds a much-needed break.

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