Staying up late for exams became a normal part of the academic process in high school and college. But researchers from Brown University and the Riken Center for Japanese Brain Science say that this practice hinders the learning process rather than helps it, according to what was published by “Medical News Today”, quoting the Journal of Neuroscience.
Researchers have found evidence that sleep helps a person internalize what they have learned while awake through a process that is specifically focused on learning, meaning that the more sleep a person sleeps, the more time their brain needs to process the knowledge and skills acquired while they are awake.
According to study lead author Dr. Yuka Sasaki, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences in the graduate program in Neuroscience at Brown University, sleep facilitates learning. But the researchers had conflicting models for explaining how to do this—the usage-based model and the learning-based model.
The usage-based model states that how much a person learns while asleep is a result of how the brain works when they are awake. On the other hand, the learning-based model states that what a person retains during sleep is directly related to a neural process specifically related to learning.
Two experimental groups
Dr. Sasaki and her team sought to find out which model was most likely to aid learning. The researchers used two experimental groups of male and female volunteers.
During the first experiment, participants learned a visual perceptual learning (VPL) task called a tissue discrimination task (TDT). The VPL task helps strengthen the brain’s ability to understand what the eye sees, which helps with a variety of visual perception skills, such as visual and sequential memory, the ability to distinguish between one object and another, and visual-spatial relationships.
Participants in the first group underwent pre-training testing, TDT training, and post-training testing. After the second test they took a 90-minute nap. Then a third test session was conducted after the nap to see how much learning the participants retained.
In the second group, participants were also taught the TDT task and were tested before and after a 90-minute nap. But the researchers designed this experiment differently, causing an overlap in the learning process.
Better results after a nap
The researchers concluded that sleep facilitates learning using the learning-based model. In particular, the research team found that participants in the first experimental group showed an improvement in their understanding of the VPL task after a 90-minute nap.
Conversely, those in the second experimental group showed little or no improvement due to the overlap condition in their training. Also, when examining brain waves when the participants were slumbering, the researchers found two types of brain signals – theta activity during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and sigma activity, which is a trusted source during non-REM sleep, which is associated with a learning-dependent process.
Theta activity in the brain is associated with learning and working memory. Sigma activity, also known as ‘sleep spindles’, plays an important role in the consolidation of long-term memories.
A different approach to learning
Dr. Sasaki believes that the research findings could encourage changes in how learning occurs in schools, saying: “Research suggests that learning after sleep is beneficial for learning reinforcement and protection. However, if schools include naps after each term, perhaps (the rhythm is thrown out). per day), so the idea would be bad, but if the school hours could be modified so that children could sleep longer at night, that would be a great move.”
Go to bed early
Stella Banus, a neuropsychologist and director of the Department of Neuropsychology at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, believes the study results suggest a different approach to learning than usual, explaining that high school and college students “When they study educational materials for a test, they may stay up late or all night, when in fact this[study]indicates that going to bed earlier will facilitate and help with learning and remembering information.”