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Sleep after learning is your brain at its best

05-01-2015

Sleep after learning is your brain at its best

For a long time our culture has prized those who ‘burn the candle at both ends’, it has lionised those who ‘give it 110 per cent’. We have been told that if we want to succeed then we need to work harder and longer. This is particularly true of academic study, the idea of ‘cramming’ for exams is widespread. You are told that if you want to do well you need to spend the days leading up to an exam working ridiculously long hours.

The truth is that it is far better to be well rested. To study during the day and to sleep well at night. The more we learn about sleep the more we have realised that it is actually an incredibly important part of learning itself. Sleep plays a central role in memory. It is vital in memory processing and memory recall. The best thing any student can do when they are studying is to have a good night’s sleep each and every night. The more sleep they have the better their memory will be.

In a typically scientific experiment with a bunch of unsuspecting mice, researchers from New York University School of Medicine and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School trained a mice in a new skill - walking along the top of a rotating rod. Once they had taught the mice this new trick they then deprived some of the mice of sleep and let the other group sleep like normal they then looked inside their brains using a microscope to see what happened.

They found that the mice who had been allowed to sleep had formed a lot more new connections between neurons - they were learning more than the mice that were sleep deprived. They also found that mice that had their sleep disturbed during different phases of sleep showed different levels of neural connection, with those who had missed out on the deep or slow wave phase of sleep with the least neural connectivity.  It is believed that during the slow wave phase of sleep the brain ‘replays’ the activity of the day, laying down the memories and ensuring that they are able to recall it the next day.

Prof Wen-Biao Gan, of the New York University, said that “Finding out sleep promotes new connections between neurons is new, nobody knew this before. We thought sleep helped, but it could have been other causes, and we show it really helps to make connections and that in sleep the brain is not quiet, it is replaying what happened during the day and it seems quite important for making the connections.”

So if you have a big exam (or just want to be able to remember today) then make sure you get enough sleep. Don’t forget that sleep helps your memory!
 


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