The school has begun, the universities are about to follow. It won’t be long and exams, tests, presentations are going to start. For pupils and students, learning is going to be a major topic again. Sometimes, out of different reasons the time is too short for being prepared when necessary. That is why many turn the night into the day to “get rid” off as many subject matter as possible. But, what most don’t know: our brain needs sleep to process learned stuff and make it ready for delivery on demand.
Sleep researcher Jan Born and his team of the Institute for Medical Psychology of the University of Tuebingen, Germany, investigated in a study whether our memory performance is influenced by sleep. Passing through and the interaction of all sleeping phases are important for learning; but via EEG the scientists found out, that especially deep-sleep with its slow Delta-waves is important for memory formation.
In the study, grown-ups and children played a game in which after seemingly arbitrary light signals buttons had to be pressed. No participant was aware of the complex underlying pattern. After a sufficient amount of sleep, a second test run was conducted the next day. The result: every participant clearly had better results, remarkably especially children had a significant increase in their performance. Children have more deep-sleep than grown-ups –- and during deep-sleep, recognition of patterns take place.
But not only learning of new contents needs sleep, the learning of motion sequences and motion patterns, too. Dieter Kunz, chief physician of the Sleep-Medic-Clinic at the St. Hedwig Hospital in Berlin, Germany, and his team have published a study in the journal “sleep”. In this study it is clearly visible that especially during REM-sleep motion patterns are processed, independent from whether an athlete is optimizing his motion sequences, the ten-finger-system has to be learned or a new piano score is exercised. After they found out that the participants of the study reached their personal best after 30 minutes of exercise, a group of participants slept for four hours, the other group stayed awake.
A clear difference was noticeable: the group that slept for four hours was able to reach their level of best performance again, the performance of the group with no sleep was clearly weaker. After this group caught up on sleep they too were able to reach their best performance again. Independently whether they slept right after reaching their best level or later –-twelve hours later, the performances of the two groups could be compared again.
So, learning instead of sleeping makes no sense –- our brain is not able to process the information, no matter what a late-learner might “dream of”.
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