Sleep is a vital ingredient of a well-functioning memory. Researchers previously assumed that sleep plays a passive role in memory enhancement but now believe it has a much more active role. In essence, it seems that sleep is essential in memory consolidation, and conversely, in learning. Recent research sees sleep as a memory optimizer, restructuring the coded fragments the brain stored while awake. Yes, it’s complicated. Researchers admit they still don’t understand the process in which our brains go offline to rearrange and store information accumulated during the day. When we are in the Slow Wave Sleep, our brains organize whatever they encountered during the day. Then they file everything as memories during the Rapid Eye Movement phase.
You Learn Awake, But Store Information in Sleep
What is certain: without sleep, learning is dim and the memory even murkier. The quantity and quality of sleep profoundly impact both processes, the intake of information its storage. We know it from the real world: a sleep-deprived student cannot optimally focus attention and cannot learn efficiently. Lack of sleep also hampers the brain in memory consolidation, an inextricable component of learning.
Learning and memorizing comprise three actions – acquisition, consolidation and recall. The acquisition is the introduction of new information. Consolidation is the process of stabilization. Finally, recall is the ability to access stored information. Each is vital. The first and the last happen in the wakeful state, while consolidation happens during sleep.
Sleep Deprivation Dims the Mind
Probably everyone faced debilitating fatigue at some point. When deprived of sleep, our brain easily loses the ability to focus and allows thoughts to drift. Exhausted people are at an increased risk of erring, even when facing fatal consequences: truck drivers and factory workers, deep-sea divers and airplane pilots. Not even imminent danger can keep someone’s brain functioning beyond a certain point.
A tired student’s brain will shut down far more readily. Professionals have mandatory rest periods. Students don’t. But they should because a break for sleep may be more productive than another hour or two of forced cramming. A tired brain requires more energy and for lesser results.
Break off Timely, Pushing Isn’t Worth It
So, instead of trying to force another lesson or another hour, it’s better to break off when you feel the fatigue. Sleep will do wonders for overworked neurons. When you wake up, you’ll be able to cover more ground, more solidly than had you pushed yourself too much the previous night.
And it isn’t just about learning. Suboptimal neuron firing, which occurs with the depletion of transmission chemicals, results in tired muscles, lapses in focus and hampers the synchronization between the body’s organ systems. It can lead to injuries or accidents. Aside from the apparent health benefits of sleep, sleep deprivation may also impact your mood. And bad mood usually means poor learning. It also considerably affects the ability to acquire and remember information.
Chronic sleep deprivation may affect different people in different ways. It is, however, doubtless that a good night’s sleep boosts learning and memory.
To recapitulate, sleep:
- Boosts ability to learn new information and helps in forming memories
- Restores neural connections
- Promotes emotional control
- Supports decision-making process
- Improves social interaction
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
That varies from one person to another. Scientific evidence suggests between seven and nine hours per night for university-age college students. Too many students at US colleges – surveys indicate 70 percent – don’t sleep enough, and half of them reported daytime drowsiness. And insufficient sleep has been linked to their grade average. Tired deprived students frequently had issues with attention, hyperactivity, irritability, multi-tasking problems and inadequate impulse control. Some even reported hallucinations, and others slipped into so-called micro-sleep. Both events occur when our bodies desperately need rest.
Tips for Good Sleeps
- Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, to prolong study sessions. That may lead to a range of adverse health effects.
- Be sure to organize yourself to allow enough sleep: no less than seven hours, but remember it takes time to settle and wake up.
- Modify your sleeping routine – earlier bedtime can help.
- Exercise regularly. It can do wonders for your sleep – but avoid it just before bedtime.
- Plan your daily tasks and due dates to avoid working late into the night.
- Set reminders for bedtime
- Don’t forget to sleep on weekends, too.
- Sleep on! Your body will appreciate it, and so will your report card.