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Learning and Sleep

Learning and Sleep

Most of us intuitively know that we function better on a good night’s sleep. How about learning? Is it really impacted by sleep and if so, what kind of data is out there to support such a claim? That’s what we were wondering, and set out to explore.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest that sleep impacts memory in two ways. First – attention. If you’re sleep deprived you can’t focus well, and focus is needed for proper learning. Second – ‘consolidation of memory’. Apparently the reorganization of our memories, is critical to our ability to recall them.

Learning and memory are summarized in three different functions. Acquisition, consolidation and recall. We know that we have to be awake to acquire or learn things and probably to recall them. But the consolidation function is thought to happen when we are asleep through a strengthening of our neural connections that form our memories. Ok. So proper sleep is necessary for optimal memory function and our ability recall memories.

How about sleep deprivation? Again, we all know anecdotally how we feel after getting only a few hours sleep. But does lack of proper sleep really affect how we learn? The short answer is yes. Our ability to recall information we have already learned and possess is reduced when we are tired, due to neuron fatigue. Even worse, our judgement becomes impaired. This can be dangerous of course, leading to accidents or injuries at work or home.

Better consolidation of memories, and subsequently better learning, have been correlated with an afternoon nap. There’s a lot of research and evidence that says what we intuitively know. Sleep helps us learn more efficiently, and retain more of what we learn.

If you have children, sleep is important for their basic development. When a baby is sleeping, their brains are active all night long. Newborns actually learn in their sleep. They are growing their nervous systems and the connections between the brain and muscles. Naps for kids have been demonstrated to improve kids ability to retain information too.

So, the next time your spouse, partner or friend gives you a hard time for sleeping in, or going to be early, just tell them you’re busy learning.

References
http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory
http://www.parents.com/health/healthy-happy-kids/why-your-kid-needs-sleep/
http://www.sleepdex.org/learning.htm

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