I had always thought of myself as a morning person. When I got to college, I made sure to schedule all my classes to start as early as possible and to finish by about 3 in the afternoon. Can anyone relate?
Therefore, I was quite irate when my schedule this semester worked out so that none of my classes started until 2:40 at the earliest. How was I going to get through the day when I was sure that I would be sleeping through all my classes?
Imagine my surprise when even without an alarm I started waking up by about 9 in the morning and was able to pay attention in class without any urge to sleep. It also came as a complete surprise when I found that my six-week grades were better this semester than they had ever been previously. What did this mean, aside from the fact that clearly I had been mistaken in thinking that I was a morning person?
Does the Time of Day Affect our Ability to Learn?
I came to the conclusion that the change in my routine caused me to learn better in my afternoon/evening classes than in my morning classes, which means that – for me – the afternoons and evenings were the “optimal time” of the day for me to learn. But, is this actually true for everyone? Is there an optimal time in the day that is more productive for learning using Brainscape or otherwise?
In a study by Dunn and Dunn, they say that there are different types of learners: morning people, afternoon “larks”, and the “night owls”. Their study found that the students tend to appear most awake right after lunch (which is coincidentally when teachers are the least awake). Unfortunately, even then not everyone will have reached real wakefulness, which makes it seem as though there is no “optimal time” for learning.
However, Jessica D. Payne recently conducted a study suggesting that studying before bed is often the best time to make knowledge “stick”, since it’s fresher in our short-term memory when our brains consolidate our knowledge during sleep. That could be good news for those who wait until the last minute to study for an exam!
That said, there are still many other factors aside from the time of day that affect our ability to learn. The overall amount of sleep, for example, is one element. As John Holloway describes it in his article on learning and time, without a proper amount of sleep, our entire ability to function goes haywire and can lead to “distractibility, impulsivity, and difficulty maintaining attention.”
In addition, we need REM sleep, which is crucial to long-term memory, in order to cement everything we learned the day before. Waking up too early can disrupt our memory enhancement and thus make everything that we “learned” the day before becoming unlearned. No matter what people say about being able to function on four hours of sleep, it’s not enough.
The Brainscape Blog covers dozens of additional topics regarding the right foods, habits, and techniques that will help you optimize your learning. Remember that the circadian rhythms of our bodies are critical, and naturally, should be somewhat close the cycle of the sunrise and sunset. If we do not let our circadian rhythms work naturally, we mess up the functioning of the rest of our body, which in turn can impair our ability to learn. In conclusion: yes, people do learn better at different times of the day, but there are so many other factors affecting our learning that a more holistic learning mindset is critical.
Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that
helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the
millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and
corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit
brainscape.com or find us on the App Store