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Sleep - Why Bother?

Part Four - Sleep and Learning.

When I ask you to think about learning, you are likely to think about sitting down at a desk with a book or computer and being wide awake and focused. You may therefore be surprised to learn that learning also takes place when we are asleep at night.

The learning that I'm speaking of is really the consolidation of learning and retaining the information so that it can be recalled at a later date.

An experiment about learning new facts and sleep deprivation was carried out with students, half of whom were kept awake all night and the other half who were allowed to sleep normally. Both groups were asked to learn new facts the following day. Those who were deprived of sleep had a 40% deficit in their ability to memorise the new facts. If you consider that some students still believe that "pulling an all nighter" to cram in all the facts before an exam is helpful, this experiment shows how wrong they are.

During sleep, short term memories are transferred into long term memory storage, this happens not only the night after learning something new but over the next few nights too. The more deep sleep you have, the more you can retain information about facts and events. Less than six hours sleep a night will prevent this process of memory consolidation.

Lighter sleep, i.e. dream sleep or REM sleep is also important for learning as it helps us make important associations, aids creativity and consolidates procedural memory – how to do things.

It is not only academic or factual learning which requires sleep for consolidation but also motor skills such as playing a tune on a piano. It seems that it's not only practice which makes perfect but practice followed by a good night's sleep leads to perfection. This has been proven to be true for athletes too; their performance improves if they have good quality sleep not just for energy levels and muscle repair but so called muscle memory as well.

So for both children and adults who want to learn new information, improve a skill and be creative too, sleep needs to be considered part of the process. I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs about sleep and if you do need any support in improving your sleep, please do get in touch.

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