Growing evidence suggests that sleep is important for procedural learning, but few studies have investigated the effect of sleep on the temporal aspects of motor skill learning. We assessed the effect of a 90-min day-time nap on learning a motor timing task, using 2 adaptations of a serial interception sequence learning (SISL) task. Forty-two right-handed participants performed the task before and after a 90-min period of sleep or wake. Electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded throughout. The motor task consisted of a sequential spatial pattern and was performed according to 2 different timing conditions, that is, either following a sequential or a random temporal pattern. The increase in accuracy was compared between groups using a mixed linear regression model. Within the sleep group, performance improvement was modeled based on sleep characteristics, including spindle- and slow-wave density. The sleep group, but not the wake group, showed improvement in the random temporal, but especially and significantly more strongly in the sequential temporal condition. None of the sleep characteristics predicted improvement on either general of the timing conditions. In conclusion, a daytime nap improves performance on a timing task. We show that performance on the task with a sequential timing sequence benefits more from sleep than motor timing. More important, the temporal sequence did not benefit initial learning, because differences arose only after an offline period and specifically when this period contained sleep. Sleep appears to aid in the extraction of regularities for optimal subsequent performance.

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Behavioral Neuroscience
KNAW, Amsterdam

Verweij, I.M, Onuki, Y, van Someren, E.J.W, & van der Werf, Y.D. (2016). Sleep to the beat: A nap favours consolidation of timing. Behavioral Neuroscience, 130(3), 298–304. doi:10.1037/bne0000146