Testing Sleep Consolidation in Skill Learning: A Field Study Using an Online Game

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Topics in Cognitive Science, Wiley Online Library, Volume 9, Number 2, p.485–496 (2017)






Consolidation, Practice, Skill acquisition, Sleep


Using an observational sample of players of a simple online game (n > 1.2 million), we are able to trace the development of skill in that game. Information on playing time, and player location, allows us to estimate time of day during which practice took place. We compare those whose breaks in practice probably contained a night's sleep and those whose breaks in practice probably did not contain a night's sleep. Our analysis confirms experimental evidence showing a benefit of spacing for skill learning, but it fails to find any additional benefit of sleeping during a break from practice. We discuss reasons why the well-established phenomenon of sleep consolidation might not manifest in an observational study of skill development. We put the spacing effect into the context of the other known influences on skill learning: improvement with practice, and individual differences in initial performance. Analysis of performance data from games allows experimental results to be demonstrated outside of the lab and for experimental phenomenon to be put in the context of the performance of the whole task.