Sleep’s powerful influence on learning

Sleep’s powerful influence on learning

Our brain is almost unbelievably active when we’re asleep.

“It’s possible that the reason we need to sleep is so that we can learn,” says molecular biologist John Medina, who has a lifelong interest in brain science.

His Brain rules book describes what scientists know for sure about how our brains work – and then offers transformative ideas for our daily lives.

His brain rule 7 is sleep well, think well. “Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity,” he says.

Mice memory

In a recent study from the journal Nature Neuroscience, UCLA neurophysics professor Mayank R. Mehta found the brain area entorhinal cortex plays a key role in memory-consolidation during sleep. As the mice in the study slept, their entorhinal cortices displayed activation similar to when they remembered something during the day. Their nighttime brain activity spurred activity in the hippocampus, which indicated that memories being strengthened during sleep.


Nobody knows for sure how how sleep we need, and it changes with age and gender. But what we do know for sure is a plethora of research points at the link between the lack of ‘quality sleep’ and anxiety and social disconnections. Length of sleep may be an issue in itself, but quality sleep is not necessarily related to the length of sleep time.

Quality sleep is the amount of time we find ourselves in a deep (REM) sleep It’s during these REM cycles that the brain refreshes and regenerates itself and when many experiences are ‘filed’ away to be drawn out when required. REM is when our memory is built.

Simple strategies

” A well-spent day brings happy sleep,” Leonardo da Vinci.

That’s all very well Leonardo, but what if we spent our day stuck behind a screen instead of canvas?

One fairly easy path to better sleep is through exercise. Not only does it boost brain power (Medina’s brain rule 1) by “zapping harmful stress chemicals” but exercise works wonders on the sleep cycle. That’s because the endorphins produced during and after exercise allow the mind to ‘still’ at night and free the brain to enter more of – and deeper – REM sleep.

Other strategies to help clear the mind include ditching late-night social media , darkening the bedroom by removing light sources like devices or digital clocks, avoidiing stimulants like coffee after midday, and adopting meditation, or mindfulness techniques an hour or so before bedtime.

Routine really helps sleep. There’s a very strong link between well-thought out daily routines – which have some flexibility built in – and good sleep patterns, Harvard University research shows.

For more info: For a study to appear in Medina’s book, it must have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal and have been successfully replicated, many dozens of times Harvard University sleep research
The neuroscience of sleep TED talk :

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