Sleep science has been a very active area of research in the last few years in the fields of cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience. It’s always nice to know it’s not just team Brainscape that’s interested in learning more about why sleep is good for us!
One of the main questions researchers have been looking to answer is a very basic one, namely, what is sleep useful for? That’s a question we’ll explore in this article.
Do We Learn During Sleep?
What is Sleep Really For?
From a first glance, the answer seems to be just as basic: we sleep to rest; we rest to recover energy for the day ahead. Nevertheless, research has shown that sleep other functions as well, functions that are not as intuitive as the conception of sleep as a recuperative process. One of the most interesting functions that researchers have started to provide evidence for is sleeping as a learning and memory aid.
Yes, sleep seems to be involved at a biological level with our ability to effectively learn and remember just about anything. Research no longer truly doubts this fact; instead, it now focuses on what are the mechanisms for such functions.
So how does sleep helps us learn and remember? Well, we’re actually not learning anything while we sleep. It seems that sleep works in two main ways:
- It protects the formation of new memories by interfering with the disrupting effects associated with wakefulness.
- It consolidates these memories according to relevance and future expectations of usefulness.
What exactly does this tell us? Firstly, sleep is not only organizing the learning of the prior hours we have spent awake, it is also preparing us for future learning. We can, therefore, say that sleep optimizes learning by making sure that we don’t forget what we need to remember and setting ourselves up related learning later on.
Making it Practical
Armed with this knowledge, how can we practically use sleep to our advantage?
Well, most importantly, we must make sure that we get enough sleep on a daily basis. An interruption in a person’s sleep pattern has not only been associated with learning deficits and forgotten memories but also with conditions such as obesity, stress, and anxiety. Newer studies have been looking into how effective napping might influence our learning and memory. These seem to make the surprising conclusion that napping actually is an effective way of recharging the brain for learning.
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