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Sleep Learning

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"Haven't you learned anything in bed?"
Dean Venture, The Venture Bros.

A character tries to use hypnopedia, aka sleep learning, to crash study for an important upcoming event; a test, a meeting with his boss, something. The technology fails on him, possibly due to outside interference. What he ends up with is a bit of brainwashing. The record got stuck, and repeated one phrase over and over, or the programs were crossed up. In a twist, the random tics the character exhibits as a result end up falling in the exact right places, leading to a sort of Clouseauesque success... at least temporarily.

It's worth noting that, although some people will try to convince you to the contrary, Sleep Learning has been proven to be completely ineffective in Real Life. Just like its "Evil Twin", Subliminal Seduction.

Compare Bedtime Brainwashing and Hypno Fool. Not to be confused with Asleep in Class, although it's conceivable that an extremely lucky individual would combine the two tropes, by sleeping through class and absorbing the knowledge nevertheless. Or that an extremely gutsy individual would try to use it as an excuse.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gals!: Invoked. While staying over at the Kotobukis, Miyu plays study recordings in Ran's bedroom and recites study materials when Ran is trying to relax or sleep. This allows Ran to pass her exams even though she didn't study for it.
  • Kyo Kara Maoh!: Conrad is able to learn Japanese via sleep learning.
  • Sumomo Mo Momo Mo has Koushi listening to a sleep tape to help him study for his law class. Momoko uses this opportunity to try to suggest romantic things for him to say instead. Koushi wakes up and catches her. The love learning does stick, though, as he ends up repeating them later on...when Iroha sneaks into his bed.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Played with when Yusuke, as a ghost, is able to appear in Kuwabara's dream strictly to help him study for the upcoming test. It's bizarre, but it works!
  • Zambot 3: In this '70s Super Robot anime, this is how Kappei, Uchuta, and Keiko are taught to pilot the eponymous robot.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Jean Paul Valley's father used Sleep Learning to make him into Azrael, a badass angel of vengeance. He was a bookish computer geek, but when triggered, could go up against Batman, whom he briefly replaced. Not bad for listening to a tape in your sleep.
  • This is how kids were taught on the Silver Age Krypton. Maybe it works better on the Kryptonian mind.
    • You can see Lois and Lana using hypno-tapes and sleep learning in "Courtship, Kryptonian Style" when they decide to become Kandorian citizens. They learn everything it takes to start on their careers in the bottle (Lois's investigative reporting skills indicate she'll do well as a police detective; Lana's inherited her archaeologist father's disposition) in a few days.
  • This trope has come up various times in Archie Comics. In one story, Moose complains that he tried it and still failed his test. Archie then shows that Moose had his tape playing backwards!
  • Transmetropolitan has "Buy-Bombs", a burst of hypnotic patterns on TV that insert ads into your subconscious, so the next time you sleep you dream advertising. The first time Spider suffers it he takes so much Jumpstart he stays awake for the next three days.
  • Featured in a Dutch comic, Sjors and Sjimmie. The two kids are using this to study for economics class, while the Colonel decides to study German so he can berate the hordes of German Tourists on their island. The Colonel then decides to make a tape from his soldier's manual about always following orders, to switch it out with the economics course so the kids obey him more. The kids meanwhile switch out their tape with the Colonels so he can't chase off the German tourists they do odd jobs for, resulting in the Colonel receiving his own Bedtime Brainwashing.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Demolition Man: Prisoners who are frozen are given training through 'sleep-method' in order to make them better citizens when they are eventually released. John Spartan, the Cowboy Cop wrongly framed for the death of a busload of people, is given skills for knitting and dress-making, and one of the first things he does is knit a sweater for his new partner, Lenina Huxley. Simon Phoenix, the Big Bad of the film, gets tactical weapons training and martial arts implanted in him. Turns out the "benevolent leader" of the society was using him as muscle.
  • The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones: This technique is the focus of research by the titular hero of the movie and its sequel The Monkeys Uncle. Since these are comedy movies by Disney, his results are... mixed.
  • Phenomenon: George gives his friend Nate an audiotape of Portuguese phrases like "What are your skills?" and "When can you start?" so he can hire Ella, a Portuguese woman as a maid. George secretly slips in phrases like "You have beautiful eyes", in order to play matchmaker between the two. By the end of the movie, Nate and Ella are expecting their first child.

  • Alliance/Union: Tape in these books is Sleep Learning with hypnotic drugs and computer feedback. Citizens use it to learn skills they lack the time for learning conventionally; it is used on azi for almost the entire programming of their minds.
  • Brave New World: Quite possibly twisted before it ever got off the ground: people are made to listen to tapes while sleeping during childhood. Huxley has his fictional conditioning experts explain that hypnopaedia is useless for teaching (one shows a boy who memorized a long lecture on the Nile River without actually learning anything from it, he could repeat the entire passage, but when asked for a specific piece of information from it, he could not answer); the tapes, therefore, are used only for behavior modification — they contain platitudes intended to subtly reinforce the values of World State society. Bernard Marx, who works in the hypnopaedia department, and who's an outsider for his cynical views on society, takes a perverse pleasure in telling people exactly which ages the speaker would hear the platitude they just espoused.
  • Cities in Flight: The series makes it clear that this is only handy for Info Dump (which is useful for the protagonist who has never lived in a City before) but the hard thing is applying the information that you have been given. The process itself is psychologically trying and not everyone is capable of it.
  • In the Star Trek novel The Final Reflection, the Klingons use sleep-learning tapes as one way of quickly acquiring a new language. The method works very well, but also interferes with normal sleep, leaving the learner feeling unrested and grouchy. On top of that, it can be used to brainwash the learner, so you have to be careful who you get the tapes from — the protagonist quietly throws away the ones the military gives him and uses some supplied by a linguist.
  • Flowers for Algernon: Charlie is given a TV that plays instruction tapes while he's sleeping right after he receives the intelligence augmentation. At first he wonders how he's supposed to sleep with that thing playing, a couple weeks later he's wondering why everyone doesn't speak German and Chinese.
  • Hammer's Slammers: It's mentioned that personnel use sleep learning to learn their clients' languages, in addition to the Dutch spoken within the regiment.
  • Robert A. Heinlein was a believer in sleep teaching: he used it in several of his novels.
    • In Glory Road, a (straight) man is taught a foreign language with the aid of a hypnotic trance and a beautiful, nude, woman.
    • Heinlein also used the trope (again for real, not for laughs) in his earlier novel Space Cadet: One of the cadets is given tapes to learn Venusian in his sleep. When he wakes up, he's disappointed that it apparently didn't take—until one of his fellow cadets (a colonist from Venus) cusses in Venusian and the protagonist replies in the same language without even thinking about it.
    • In Citizen of the Galaxy, Thorby's adoptive father uses a "sleep instructor" to give him an accelerated education, including several languages, and also to insert a message to his contacts in Terran Intelligence into his subconscious.
    • In Starship Troopers Rico studies for his officer qualification while on deployment using hypnopaedia. But it, combined with the conventional studying, runs him ragged until his CO orders him to "take a break". MI troopers and navy pilots also receive a number of post-hypnotic suggestions, ranging from sleeping on command to the "suicide on capture" order given to navigators who know the location of Sanctuary.
  • I Was a Sixth Grade Alien: The Hevi-Hevians use this to learn new languages, and unlike most examples, it actually works. Before going to sleep, they take a special pill that places the brain in the same chemical state as it is at the time of the "language explosion", as they call it (meaning the state it was in when they were children and able to learn languages more effectively), then put on a helmet which plays the language into their brain as they sleep. About ten nights of this is enough to give them a basic command of the language.
  • Liaden Universe: Here, Sleep-learning is used, effectively and with no failures. (Though the Liaden version of it is a machine based on neural induction technology that works by implanting information into otherwise unused neurons, not the "sleeping with a tape recorder" idea that this trope is mainly about.)
    • In I Dare, Miri relates a bad experience she had with it on Surebleak before being committed to a properly-working machine to find she is a sleep-learning prodigy.
    • In Scout's Progress Aelianna's brother sticks her in a sleep-learning machine with the safety devices removed to punish her for defying him.
    • Sleep-learning does have the disadvantage that knowledge thus obtained needs to be practiced or it will be lost, and seems to have other disadvantages that make it unsuitable to replace schools entirely; otherwise universities such as those seen in Local Custom and Fledgling would no longer exist.
  • Okuyyuki: Reilly's magical katana Audrey teaches him swordfighting in his dreams, filling them with memories of her ancient battles.
  • Paratime: This is how Police officers learn languages and customs before going into the field.
  • "Poor Superman": In Fritz Leiber's short story, the Thinkers are a cult of con artists who have managed to gain a strong foothold in the United States by offering them pseudo-science miracles. One of the founders, the idealistic Jorj Helmuth, actually believes in some of the crap the Thinkers peddle, such as sleep learning. The more cynical and realistic co-founder Jan Treggaron mocks him for this during his "The Reason You Suck" Speech, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if he'd taken up hypnosis as well foreshadowing The Reveal at the end that Jorj's lover Caddy was only faking being hypnotized. As Treggaron puts it, Jorj made the biggest mistake a con artist can make: he fell for his own con.
  • Small Gods includes an anecdote about a prince in the Discworld who tried to do this and asked a philosopher if he could find an easy way for the Prince to learn things. The philosopher replies there is no royal road to knowledge, to which the King says he bloody well builds one or else. Cue slaves whispering in his ear as he sleeps. Unfortunately the third one stuck a dagger in it but, "I don't believe there was anything wrong with the idea in principle."
  • Tree of Aeons: Matt gains a [Dream tutor] skill that allows him to bestow educational dreams, although he can't directly control the contents, and their effectiveness is unpredictable. Imbuing them with collected essences does make them more potent, though, sometimes granting a new Skill to the recipient.
  • Wayside School: The books have one student, a Heavy Sleeper, never being disturbed by the others on Mrs. Jewls's insistence that she's sleep-learning. At least one tie-in book hints this may be right.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World: One episode had Eric Matthews learn to skate by listening to a dieting tape that his friend had dubbed over. Naturally, not all of the original audio was removed, leading him to freak out over, and then run away from, unhealthy food at the end of the episode. In the middle of a date.
  • The Brittas Empire: In "The Disappearing Act", Carole, who's trying to get the Employee of the Month award of tickets to Paris, has taken to putting on tapes whilst she sleeps in an attempt to teach herself French. From what is shown, it seems to have been a successful venture for her, although they start leaking into her dreams in the form of them being about going to Paris.
  • Clarissa Explains It All: This classic Nickelodeon show had an episode where Clarissa wanted to memorize all the lines of a play she was starring in overnight (she'd signed up to be the understudy, and didn't expect to need to know it). So she played a recording of the play in her sleep. It seemed to work at first, but then she started reciting lines of the play mixed in, with lines from other famous plays ("If you believe in fairies, clap your hands!") due to tapes causing her to dream of being an actress in other shows.
  • Feral TV (technically a puppet show, but its predecessor, The Ferals, had live actors as well as puppets) features Darren the dog teaching himself to be more assertive by this method. After seeing it work, his "friends" immediately begin sticking in Teach Yourself Karate, Teach Yourself French, and 1001 Uses For A Dead Cane Toad (their boss being a cane toad). Hilarity ensues, but only a little bit since it's a 5-minute program.
  • Friends: Chandler borrows a tape to help him quit smoking, which unfortunately offers such encouragement as "You are a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke". He then spends the rest of the episode behaving in a very effeminate manner.
  • Monk: In "Mr. Monk Visits a Farm", Monk figures out the killer of the week and convinces Randy Disher to end his 10-Minute Retirement and rejoin the police by tricking him into believing that he solved the mystery himself. To do so, he takes advantage of Randy's habit of playing motivational tapes while he sleeps by switching the player off and feeding him the case's solution by pretending to be the tape's narrator. When Randy wakes up, he comes to Stottlemeyer with the answers and successfully gets the killer arrested, believing that he figured it out in his sleep.
  • The Prisoner (1967): An experiment in unconscious learning was a cover for rather more unwholesome experimentation. Of course, in this show, they can see your dreams through the lamp over your bed.
  • Radio Active: In one episode, George is caught sleeping in class, and explains that he is actually studying his book via osmosis. While it does work, it turns out he was sleeping on the wrong book.
  • Red Dwarf: Lister mentions that Rimmer attempted to use the self-hypnosis tapes "Learn Esperanto While You Sleep" and "Learn Quantum Theory While You Sleep". The only results we're told of are that neither of them got any sleep.
  • Round the Twist: One episode has Bronson helping Pete to cram for an exam by reading the textbook to him at midnight. Then Bronson begins reading a superhero comic aloud, causing Pete to become convinced he's a superhero. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Referenced in "The Voyager Conspiracy." Seven of Nine modified a device called a cortical subunit allowing her to download the ship's status reports while she was regenerating. When she mentioned this to Captain Janeway, Tom Paris commented "Learn while you sleep? I tried that once, gave me a headache." The ultimate effect of Seven of Nine's experiment was that the new information wasn't absorbed properly and she became paranoid, convinced that both Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay were plotting against Voyager.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • FoxTrot: In one strip when Jason mentioned Peter put a book under his pillow, trying to let the learning enter his head by osmosis. Unfortunately, the day the strip took place, Peter had tests for three different subjects, leaving his neck horribly twisted in the morning.
    • Another time, he had an IQ test. "So that's where all those volumes of the encyclopedia went."
    • This trope also led to a Dream Arc regarding Homer's The Odyssey when Peter tried listening to the audiobook the night before the test, and somehow ended up dragging Jason into the dream. The ending of the dream has him discovering that Quincy was playing the role of Penelope, a discovery that was strongly implied to have resulted in him waking up earlier than usual out of disgust.
  • One Pearls Before Swine story arc revolved around one of the crocs unknowingly becoming a master at Jeopardy because he kept falling asleep while watching the show.
  • Peanuts: One Sunday strip had Linus describing the book-under-the-pillow method to Lucy. "While I'm asleep, the answers will seep up through the pillow and into my head." The last panel is a shot of his worried face as he says "...I hope!"
    • This is based on an old children's tale, where use of said technique resulted in one kid's head expanding to accommodate the new knowledge. Eventually the head grew so big it filled the kid's room.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Hc Svnt Dracones an ocular implant called a "Neuroplex" displays a stream of information when the user is sleeping based on their train of thought. The game effect being that after two weeks of that, the character gains one Proficiency point, up to three.
  • In the Hammer's Slammers campaign setting for Traveller sleep learning gives you a skill rating of 0 (just enough to use the skill), and you can only know one sleep-learned skill at a time.
  • The Technocracy in Mage: The Ascension sometimes uses this to train its agents. Given their general style, it often shades over into Bedtime Brainwashing.

    Video Games 
  • Outpost 2: This is one research option. After completing it, it's reported to be ineffective for anything other than easily memorizable facts, but it does give a trivial boost to the training time (being slightly stronger if playing as Eden).
  • Super Robot Wars: Original Generation: After the SRX team is given manuals for their R Series units, Ryusei asks Aya if there is a sleep-learning machine for use, to which she states that if such methods worked, they would've been used on him long ago.
  • Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World: Apparently, this is one of Tenebrae's seven hidden talents. Neither Emil nor Marta finds it useful, however.
    Marta: Seriously! Brainwash me into learning something useful next time!

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In "A Jorb Well Done", when Coach Z's inability to properly pronounce the word "job" becomes a major sticking point, the other characters try everything from elementary school to Ludovico's Technique to get him to say "job" without adding a few extra consonants and vowels (and sometimes entire syllables). Finally, Strong Sad suggests a tape he made of himself reciting the word "job" over and over from when he was "practicing the dictionary". Coach Z listens to the tape while he sleeps, and the next morning Homestar is pleasantly surprised to find that Coach Z can say "job" with no problem — but now he can't remember how to pronounce "Homestar"!
    Coach Z: You did a great... job, Hamstray. No, wait, I mean Hamster! I mean Strumstar. I mean Stairmaster. Homegrown! Ramrod? Humphel?!

    Web Comics 
  • One of Evil, Inc.'s products is a CD that when played while you sleep instills generic villainous memories. $124.99

    Western Animation 
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: One special used the trope when Alvin was trying to learn how to act romantic before a Valentine's dance. It's shown Alvin dubs himself "Captain Chipmunk".
  • Clone High, "Sleep of Faith: La Rue D'Awakening": Cleo has an already-sleep-deprived Abe read through her entire textbook, start to finish, while she sleeps. However, she doesn't retain anything when she wakes up, making Abe pass out.
  • Dexter's Laboratory, "The Big Cheese": Dexter tries to cram for a French test at school, but his recording skips, and when he wakes up in the morning all he is able to say is "omelette du fromage". The only question on the test, luckily, is to translate the phrase "cheese omelette." In fact, "omelette du fromage" is the phrase needed for every situation Dex faces for the rest of the cartoon, including solving the Mid-East crisis. His only obstacle? The password needed to enter the lab is "Star Wars", so the lab's voice-activated vault door bars his re-entry then self-destructs when Dexter failed to give the correct password one too many times.
  • The Flintstones: In one episode, Wilma and Betty use a sleep teaching method in order to reprogram Fred and Barney into perfectly trained husbands. Upon learning they were brainwashed, the pair retaliate by making their wives think they were going to pull a robbery when the girls asked for mink coats.
  • Futurama: Advertisements are inserted into everyone's dreams ..."just like this liquid gets into this egg", (injecting a liquid into an egg, which then explodes). "Although in reality it's not liquid, but gamma radiation."
  • Garfield and Friends episode 58 has Jon Arbuckle preparing for a pitch to a publisher (his little-seen job is as a cartoonist). Jon is afraid he’ll bite his nails in nervousness at the interview, so he tries using a sleep-learning record to cure himself. Garfield and Odie destroy the record by accident and replace it with cartoon sound effects, a Spanish-language tutoring record, and a "Hits of the 1950s" collection. At the meeting, all Jon can produce is "Hola, Paco, ¿Qué tal?", doo-wop music, and machine-gun noises. As it turns out, the publisher is a Mexican immigrant, named Paco, who likes doo-wop, and the sound effects match Jon's submission very well. Unfortunately, the publisher decides Jon is a weirdo for ‘’not’’ biting his nails, courtesy of the proper record having been played just long enough to fix the habit before being broken.
  • Kid vs. Kat: Used as the main plot point in an episode where Coop uses a self-help tape to boost his confidence. Mr. Kat then replaces the tape with one designed to make him pessimistic, and when it works uses the same method to turn Coop's father into his servant. When Coop discovers Kat's plan, he again uses a tape to make himself a 'tough guy', which nearly ends badly for his family and friend.
  • The Loud House: Deconstructed in "Driving Miss Hazy". Lori intentionally gets Leni to fail her driving test by slipping headphones onto her that teach bad driving instructions while she sleeps.
  • The Simpsons: Homer orders a "weight loss" tape to help curb his overeating, but since they're all out, they send him a "vocabulary builder" tape. He spends much of the episode consuming vast amounts of food while talking about it in very long words. His vocabulary becomes even worse than usual after he throws away the tapes for failing to help him lose weight.
    Marge: Are the self-help tapes having any effect?
    Homer: Ah, lamentably no. My gastronomic rapacity knows no satieties.
  • The Venture Bros.: Hank and Dean are educated this way in lieu of school. Apparently, it works. In fact, it also copies their memories to be implanted into spare clones of them for their frequent deaths.
    • Of course, there's the whole subtext about how the learning bed's outdated information and the resulting lack of contact with other kids compared to school has much to do with Hank and Dean's weirdness and idiocy. Dr. Venture has at least some awareness of the downsides of this teaching method, having been subjected to it himself ("And THAT'S why I didn't lose my virginity until I was 24!"), but he apparently doesn't care.
    • Later on we see that Dr. Venture uses the exact same recordings his father made for him, simply dubbing in "Hank and Dean" over "Rusty" and leaving everything else the same. Given his own dickish nature, the Doc's father, Dr. Jonas Venture Sr. probably didn't put the most care in his lessons even when it was appropriate for the time.
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: In "Smoke Detectors", the puppies try to use this tactic on Cruella when she stays at the Dearly Farm to get her to stop smoking. However, the other side of the Stop Smoking tape is a tape for Dog Training, and since the puppies put the wrong side of the tape in the tape recorder, it results in Cruella acting like a dog.

    Real Life 
  • When C. J. Cherryh was in college, she once had exams on US history and Machiavelli on the same day. So the day before, she crammed history, then dictated her notes on Machiavelli into a tape recorder and slept while it played in a loop. The next morning, her history exam had an essay: you're Abraham Lincoln, it's a week before Fort Sumter, what do you do? She wrote down a detailed plan of arrests and assassinations, and turned it in before she realized what she'd done. She got an A.
  • One British ASW Captain had a habit of going to sleep during maneuvers with a pair of headphones connected to the sonar. At one time he woke up and said, "That's a submarine". And indeed it was. When asked how he knew he said it had a "metallic sound" or something of the kind.
  • It's easier to retain knowledge if you read/listen to it just before you go to sleep, due to the shift from normal brain waves to alpha brain waves. As an added bonus, you'll be able to comprehend it and not just be a living tape recorder. However, it still takes at least a few days, so cramming the night before a test isn't recommended.
  • In a lucid dream you can practice skills you're learning while awake. But it doesn't work unless you've done it in real life before.
  • Worry Dolls are an inversion. You tell them your worries before you go to bed and they do the worrying for you.
  • There are also anecdotal stories of how people gained a "Eureka!" Moment or two by "sleeping on the problem".
    • Going to sleep is known to force a switch into "diffuse thinking mode," in which different parts of the brain transfer information between them without following well-blazed paths. Scientific studies have shown that sleeping on a problem actually does help you come up with different solutions by drawing on connections that you never would have thought of by just focusing on the problem itself.
    • Sleeping also turns off the "data gatekeeper" function of your brain (i.e. the part that compares all incoming information to previous remembered experience to decide if this is legitimate input or random neuron firing), allowing you to open yourself to more creative and nonconventional ideas (often to the point of ridiculousness, but filtering out the impossible parts is a problem for your awake self to tackle).

Alternative Title(s): Hypnopaedia