Trying to master a new skill or new dance steps? Make sure you take good breaks while training because you'll learn faster than if you push yourself non-stop, suggests a new study.
Psychology researchers Soren Ashley and Joel Pearson from the University of New South Wales found that adopting a "practice makes perfect" approach has limits: train too much and the law of diminishing returns cuts in to impede progress.
Learning a new skill involves rewiring of the brain, a phenomenon called neural plasticity. For the new skill to persist, those brain changes must be stabilised or consolidated by being transferred from short-term memory and locked into long-term memory, the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reports.
"If the information and/or neural changes are not adequately consolidated, then learning will be temporary or not occur at all," the researchers say, according to a New South Wales statement.
Other research has found that lack of sleep, for example, can interfere with the consolidation process, as can trying to train for a second skill before the first one has properly sunk in.
"Many studies have shown that you don't learn if you don't sleep after a day of training," says Pearson. "Likewise, overtraining can reduce learning if you don't allow time for consolidation."