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Sleep is your key to academic success. But why? It allows you to learn information and use it when you need to. Isn’t that what school is about?
Dr. Nadav Traeger at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, New York, explains that many studies demonstrate a direct link between sleep and learning. He says, “Volunteers were taught a specific task. Half the group got sleep while the second half spent those hours reviewing material again. Each time, the group that slept performed better than the group that got extra time studying.”
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, memories form in three steps: acquisition, consolidation, and recall.
Acquisition is the introduction of new information into the brain. With enough sleep, you can focus while awake, which in turn allows you to learn. Sleep enables your:
- Problem-solving abilities
- Ability to reason, make judgments, and plan
- Attention to detail
- Alertness and focus
- Quick thinking and fast reflexes
Allie H., a junior at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, says, “I’m more alert, focused, and motivated to do my work. I get more accomplished and perform better.”
Consolidation is the process of a memory becoming stable, through the strengthening of neural connections. There are five stages of sleep, and all are necessary for the process of memory consolidation.
Stages 1 & 2 = Light: Motor learning depends on these stages.
Stages 3 & 4 = Deep: This “slow-wave sleep” plays a role in forming declarative memories from fact-based information.
Stage 5 = Rapid Eye Movement (REM): Procedural memories—the knowledge of how to do something—are consolidated during REM sleep.
Each cycle takes 90-110 minutes. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, meaning five cycles of the five stages.
Recall is the ability to access information (whether consciously or unconsciously) after it’s been stored. Without sufficient sleep, memories won’t fully exist, and you’ll be unable to unscramble the information. Traeger explains, “Sleep deprivation will prevent material from being properly stored as long-term memory. At the end of the semester [you’ll] need to approach that material again, almost like it’s brand new, instead of reviewing stored knowledge.”
Since sleep is critical to your ability to learn and retain information, follow the advice of Eugene L., a junior at Seattle Pacific University in Washington. He makes sleep a priority, saying, “I set a time to go to bed and get into a routine.”
More Fascinating Sleep Facts
A team at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York recently discovered theglymphatic system, which flushes waste products from the brain during sleep. One such product is called beta-amyloid. A decrease in beta-amyloid seems to be connected with a lower chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, it may also be important in forming memories.
More about this new research.
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Sanders, L. (2012) “You Really Can Learn While You Sleep: Brain stays busy during lights-out.” Science News. Vol. 182.
Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine and WGBH Education Foundation, Healthy Sleep