EEG sleep spindle activity (SpA) during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep has been reported to be associated with measures of intelligence and overnight performance improvements. The reticular nucleus of the thalamus is generating sleep spindles in interaction with thalamocortical connections. The same system enables efficient encoding and processing during wakefulness. Thus, we examined if the triangular relationship between SpA, measures of intelligence and declarative learning reflect the efficiency of the thalamocortical system. As expected, SpA was associated with general cognitive ability, e.g. information processing speed. SpA was also associated with learning efficiency, however, not with overnight performance improvement in a declarative memory task. SpA might therefore reflect the efficiency of the thalamocortical network and can be seen as a marker for learning during encoding in wakefulness, i.e. learning efficiency.