How Sleep Affects Learning

How Sleep Affects Learning

We all have to deal with the impact of sleep deprivation at some point in our lives. Having to stay up late to study or work well past midnight inevitably leads to not getting enough sleep. However, the consequences of sacrificing a good night’s sleep goes far beyond feeling exhausted the next day.

How Sleep Affects Learning

Fewer hours of sleep can dramatically impact your long-term memory, lead to mental health impairment and potentially contribute to more serious conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. While missing the odd night of sleep will not cause you any lasting damage, sleep deprivation affects concentration, playing a critical role in how well you learn and retain information.

How Poor Sleep Affects Memory Formation

The learning process utilises multiple cognitive functions. One of these is consolidation of memory. This role of sleep in memory consolidation is massive and affects things like information recall. Poor sleep patterns also impair the memory processes and result in your brain having a harder time retaining procedural memory. Declarative memory is also impacted.

A lack of sleep makes it much more difficult to study and retain academic information. Although many people think that sleep debt can be compensated for with a greater amount of sleep at a later point, it is the sleep quality immediately following the learning process that is important. Engaging in deep sleep after you have studied improves cognition and allows your brain to form strong bonds between different types of memories, allowing for better recall and memory performance all round.

The Role of Different Stages of Sleep

Learning is also massively affected by various sleep cycles. The first, lightest stage of sleep is referred to as the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage. When you enter the NREM sleep stage, brain waves begin to slowly wind down over the course of no more than 10 minutes. During this stage, you can easily be stirred and return to wakefulness. Next, your body enters the second stage of NREM sleep. During this subsequent NREM sleep cycle, brain wave activity decreases significantly. Eye movements and muscle activity also diminishes as your body enters into a deeper stage of sleep.

After this, your body enters into slow-wave sleep (SWS). During these stages, it is much more difficult for you to be woken up. During slow-wave sleep, the muscles relax completely. Your core body temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure also drop to low levels. It is during SWS that the body truly rests and recuperates, which is what makes it so important for things like injury recovery. The final stage of sleep is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is the stage of sleep where you experience dreaming. REM sleep is also largely responsible for memory consolidation and ensuring your working memory remains at optimal levels.

Motor skills and motor learning is heavily determined by healthy sleep during the NREM stages. However, visual learning instead relies on non-REM stages of sleep. It is during the latter stages of NREM sleep that your visual learning is facilitated. Better sleep during the slow-wave and REM stages is important when it comes to thinks like creativity and problem-solving ability. The effects of sleep deprivation are noticeable when it comes to locking down fact-based learning and information. It is during the REM stage that most people firmly acquire memories from learned sources.

Poor Concentration

Good concentration is also sleep-dependent. Burning the midnight oils will not only lead to feelings of sleepiness during the day, they will also impact your overall concentration levels and make it harder to engage with your regular routine. In addition to wreaking havoc on your circadian rhythms, a poor sleep schedule will have a damaging impact on your levels of alertness. It will also impair your concentration, making it incredibly difficult to digest new information during the course of the day. A lack of focus and concentration renders it nigh on impossible to engage with complex reasoning and more demanding tasks. Ultimately, sacrificing on sleep to study is a bad idea and you will be better served by a rested, healthy mind and memory after a restful night.

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