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Does Sleep affect your Memory?

The Effect of Sleep on Memory

Sleep has a huge effect on memory also. This is critical because everything you learn needs to be formed into memories for it to be available to you when you need it.

Harvard University Med School states that “Healthy Sleep is essential for optimal learning and memory function”[1].

Making new memories can be broken into 3 Parts:

#1 Acquisition(Waking):

This is the process of gaining new knowledge. There are many ways we can improve our acquisition and retention of information.

All leaning begins with the acquisition of new knowledge which is then connected to prior knowledge

Jim Kwik is widely recognized as one of the premier learning Gurus. He promotes F.A.S.T learning

  1. Forget – forget what you already know and approach new knowledge with an empty cup. Forget the stresses in your life and try to be present in the moment. Lastly, forget your Limits – your IQ is not fixed no matter what you’ve been told. Remember the words of Henry Ford – ‘Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t you’re probably right’.
  2. Active – Be active with your learning. Take great notes, highlight text, respond to questions or write questions down. Your brain learns through creation, not consumption. Learning is not a spectator sport
  3. State – this refers to the current mood of your mind and body. Are you curious or excited about what you will learn? If not then think about what can get you in a state where you are. Information + emotion = long-term memories. This is why we learn very little when we are bored. All learning is state dependent
  4. Teach – Learn it as if you are going to teach it to others. This will make you think about how you can phrase the information so others will understand it too[2]

Although that was slightly off topic the idea is that all memories or new learning must start with the Acquisition of new knowledge. As a Teacher, I see that we are generally taught what to learn and not how to learn.

In terms of State - it is hard to be excited and motivated when tired. A lack of sleep therefore affects this first crucial stage of learning. 

Writing notes, highlighting the text and jotting down any questions that come to mind. Be curious about what you are learning, question it and then share it with others.

This is how you lay the pathways for new, deep learning to occur.    

 

#2 Consolidation (Sleeping):

This is the phase where the new memory becomes stable in the brain.

This is through the strengthening of the new neural pathways or connections that form our memories[3]. It is the brainwaves of deep sleep that allow our brains to lay down these memories.

Deep Sleep consolidates all new knowledge

 

#3 Recall (Waking)

This is the stage of bringing the information or memories forward when we want them.

This can either be conscious like doing a Math problem or Sub-conscious like knowing how to structure a sentence (most of us can’t describe it, but we know how to do it).

The effect of Lack of Sleep 

When we are sleep deprived it has a detrimental effect on our learning – we struggle to focus, our attention wanders, we lose control of our mood and are less active as learners.

This affects the Acquisition of new knowledge.

If we then go on to have a poor nights sleep and struggle to get the required amounts of restorative deep sleep then we struggle to lay down those memories and so affects our Consolidation of the memories. 

If our Acquisition and Consolidation are hampered then our ability to Recall the information is no longer important because the information isn’t there.

This is why the idea of pulling all-nighters to study or working for longer hours can actually be detrimental to our learning and growth. In fact spending a shorter amount of time learning, being active, in an excited, motivated state is much more effective.

Business is catching up with this. In a recent NZ trial, a law firm moved to a four-day working week and found that “employees are engaged with their job and employer, they are more productive”[4].

 

The Child Learner

Gaining new memories requires 3 stages Acquisition, Consolidation, Recall

Who are the fastest learners on the planet?

Kids, right.

If we look at how kids learn, what do they do? They are curious, excited, have a sense of wonder or bewilderment about something.

So, then they explore it, play (play by the way has been shown to improve neurogenesis and neuroplasticity – that is growing new neurons and strengthening the pathways[5]), question (anyone who’s been through the Why stage with a child will attest to this) and then they go and sleep for 10-12 hours a night

– see the correlation here they Acquire the knowledge as Active learners in a Primed State. Then they Consolidate the knowledge through deep, restful sleep. This in turn leads to the ability to Recall the knowledge.



The Adult Learner

Consolidation of new information can only happen during Sleep

If we contrast this to how we expect teenagers and adults to learn – Often they are recipients of knowledge through reading, researching or being talked to.

This information is often something the person feels they should do or know, not something they are excited about.

Due to stress or boredom often the person struggles with focus so they use caffeine (or worse) to stimulate their mind.

This leads to the person either following their real interests or trying to switch off from the monotony of life late into the evening resulting in a restless nights sleep. Sound familiar?

 his is a poor learning pattern. Our acquisition is lessened, our ability to Consolidate through sleep is poor and therefore we have less to Recall the following day.

How to learn better

Focusing on being an actively involved learner who is motivated to learn the new information in a short high state period is a great method for Acquisition.

Following this by getting a deep, restful sleep will allow the brain to Consolidate the memories and therefore our Recall of the information when it is needed will be much stronger.

Summary:

  • We have learned that all Memories consist of 3 parts – Acquiring knowledge, Consolidating the knowledge and then Recalling it.
  • We learn best when we are Actively involved with the information, when we are Emotionally connected to it and when we are open to new learning.
  • Children are the fastest learners on the planet – following their learning process: Exploration, play, curiosity, bewilderment and deep rest – is something all learners can learn from.
  • It is better to do short intense learning sessions than long drawn out ones.
  • Deep Sleep Consolidates ALL new Memories

 

If you are looking for ways to improve your sleep or just want to educate yourself more on the importance of Sleep sign up for our FREE 7-day email course. You will learn why we sleep, how to improve your sleep and some easy tricks to gaining more restful and restorative sleep. 

 

References:

[1] http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r1LTe5KkSA

[3] http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/new-zealand-short-working-week-trial-scheme-pay-five-days-work-four-perpetual-guardian-a8202461.html

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uT_GcOGEFsk

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