Sleep, Learning and Memory by@fabiodosreis

Sleep, Learning and Memory

Sleep deprivation affects ability to study, learn and retain information in memory because of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep negatively affects mood, motivation, judgment and even perception of events taking place around us. Sleep itself plays a role in memory consolidation – recording information in the brain – which is evidently essential for learning new studied content. The importance of sleeping well is to avoid over-indulging and over-exercising in order to get at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep.
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Fábio dos Reis

Working for over 30 years in tech, especially Electronics, Telecom, Computer Programming and Data Networks.

The scene is very common: a sleepless night, whether due to studying, working or even insomnia – no matter the reason – is followed by a miserably tiring day. You go to school, or you go to work, trying to focus on the work that needs to be done, but the lack of sleep just won't allow it.


And this ends up happening over and over again. What is the long-term impact of lack of sleep for students and workers? We will discuss this topic in this article, focusing on what happens to our ability to study, learn and retain information in memory because of sleep deprivation.


The Importance of Sleeping Well

Numerous studies suggest that sleep plays a very important role in memory formation. There is general agreement that a good night's sleep is necessary for the consolidation of learning and memory.


Lack of adequate sleep negatively affects mood, motivation, judgment, and even our perception of events taking place around us.


Both sleep and learning and memory are processes that we still don't fully understand. Still, several studies suggest that the duration and quality of sleep have a very big impact on the process of learning and memory.

How does this occur? According to research, getting enough sleep helps with memory consolidation in two main ways:


  • It increases the level of attention (focus), as a person who sleeps inadequately cannot focus in order to learn efficiently.
  • Furthermore, sleep itself plays a role in memory consolidation – recording information in the brain – which is evidently essential for learning new studied content.


Learning and memory are generally described as three functions:


  • Acquisition: Introduction of new information into the brain
  • Consolidation: Stabilize memory by recording new information.
  • Recall: Access information that is stored in the brain.


The processes of acquisition and recall only occur while we are awake, but research suggests that the consolidation process occurs during sleep, consisting of the strengthening of neuronal connections that form our memories.


Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Learning

When we don't get enough sleep, our focus, attention and vigilance are widely scattered, which clearly makes it difficult for us to assimilate new information.


Without adequate sleep and rest, our neurons are overloaded and can no longer coordinate information in a satisfactory way, and so we end up losing the ability to access information that was previously learned. Our mood is affected, which also has negative consequences for learning.


The problem can become even more serious if lack of sleep leads to chronic fatigue and tiredness, as we lose the ability to make conscious decisions, and lapses in focus and attention can even lead to accidents, often with harmful consequences.


How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep To Improve Your Learning

Some basic tips:


  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Limit exposure to bright light at night. Blue and violet light from TV sets, smartphones, laptops or PCs stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which keeps you awake. On the other hand, orange or red light stimulates the production of the hormone melatonin, released by the pineal gland, which facilitates and induces sleep. If you have to use a computer, tablet or smartphone before bed, install an app to manage screen colors and brightness.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time, and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during holidays and vacation periods.
  • Set a bedtime that allows you to get at least 7 hours of sleep. Ideally, between 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep.
  • Don't go to bed unless you're starting to feel sleepy. By keeping a strict bedtime and waking time, sleep should naturally come at the expected time.
  • However, if after lying down you don't fall asleep within about 20 minutes, get out of bed and wait a little longer before returning and trying to sleep again.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Put on soft music, read a fiction book, do meditation or something along those lines.
  • Important: Use your bed only for sleeping (and having sex). No working or Netflix watching, for example.
  • Make your room peaceful and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. The ideal temperature is around 20° C / 68° F for a good sleeping night.
  • Don't overeat before bed, and do not eat a heavy meal. If you feel hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. Reduce your fluid intake before bed, even if it's just water.
  • Exercise regularly and try to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, energy drinks) in the late afternoon or evening. And avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime.

References

"Sleep, Learning, and Memory", http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

"Healthy Sleep Habits", http://www.sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits

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by Fábio dos Reis @fabiodosreis.Working for over 30 years in tech, especially Electronics, Telecom, Computer Programming and Data Networks.
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