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Many competing theories have been advanced to discover the possible connections between sleep and learning in humans. One theory is that sleep consolidates[1] and optimizes the layout of memories, though recent evidence suggests this may be restricted to implicit procedural memories[2].

Increased learning

Popular sayings such as "sleep on it" or "consult the pillow" reflect the notion that remolded memories produce new creative associations in the morning, and that performance often improves after a time-interval that includes sleep.[3] Many studies demonstrate that a healthy sleep produces a significant learning dependent performance boost.[4][5] Healthy sleep must include the appropriate sequence and proportion of NREM and REM phases, which play different roles in memory consolidation-optimization process. In motor skill learning, an interval of sleep may be critical for the expression of performance gains; without sleep these gains will be delayed (Korman et al., 2003). However, several studies show that, in some conditions, time after training, even without sleep, may suffice for attaining significant performance boosts (Roth Ari-Even et al., 2005).

In a study,[6] procedural memories have been shown to benefit from sleep (Walker et al., 2002, as cited in Walker, 2009). Subjects were tested using a tapping task, where they used their fingers to tap a specific sequence of numbers on a keyboard, and their performances were measured by accuracy and speed. This finger-tapping task was used to simulate learning a motor skill. The first group was tested, retested 12 hours later while awake, and finally tested another 12 hours later with sleep in between. The other group was tested, retested 12 hours later with sleep in between, and then retested 12 hours later while awake. The results showed that in both groups, there was only a slight improvement after a 12 hour wake session, but a significant increase in performance after each group slept. This study gives evidence that sleep is a significant factor in consolidating motor skill procedural memories.

Declarative memory has also been shown to benefit from sleep, but not in the same way as procedural memory. A study[7] was conducted where the subjects learned word pairs, and the results showed that sleep not only prevents the decay of memory, but also actively fixates declarative memories (Ellenbogen et al., 2006, as cited in Walker, 2009). Two of the groups learned word pairs, then either slept or stayed awake, and were tested again. The other two groups did the same thing, except they also learned interference pairs right before being retested to try and disrupt the previously learned word pairs. The results showed that sleep was of some help in retaining the word pair associations, while against the interference pair, sleep helped significantly.

A study[8] has also found that after sleep there is an increased insight, that is, a sudden gain of explicit knowledge. Thus during sleep the representation of new memories are restructured.

A 2010 study has found that taking an afternoon nap increases learning capacity.[9][10]

Sleep in relation to school

Sleep has been directly linked to the grades of students. One in four U.S. high school students admit to falling asleep in class at least once a week.[11] Consequently, results have shown that those who sleep less do poorly. In the United States sleep deprivation is common with students because almost all schools begin early in the morning and many of these students either choose to stay up awake late into the night or cannot do otherwise due to delayed sleep phase syndrome.[How to reference and link to summary or text] As a result, students that should be getting between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep are getting only 7 hours.[12] Perhaps because of this sleep-deprivation, their grades lower and their concentration is impaired. (Roth Ari-Even et al., 2005). As a result of studies showing the effects of sleep-deprivation on grades, and the different sleep patterns for teenagers, a school in New Zealand, changed its start time to 10:30, in 2006, to allow students to keep to a schedule that allowed more sleep. Similarly a high school in Copenhagen has committed to providing at least one class per year for students who will start at 10 a.m. or later.

Other theories

Other researchers'[attribution needed] theories on additional functions of sleep differ significantly. One older idea is the energy conservation theory. Others claim that REM sleep is needed to "refresh" the brain after NREM phase, or that REM is needed to prevent stasis of fluids in the eye. (Roth Ari-Even et al., 2005).

See also


  1. Men's Health - MSN Health & Fitness
  2. Robertson, E.M., Pascual-Leone, A. and Press, D.Z. (2004). Awareness modifies the skill-learning benefits of sleep. Current Biology 14, 208-212.
  3. Sleep On It, Study: Sleep Stimulates Creative Thinking - CBS News
  4. Society for Neuroscience | Sleep and Learning
  5. includeonly>"To understand the big picture, give it time -- and sleep", EurekAlert, April 20 2007. Retrieved on 2007-04-23.
  6. Walker, M. P. (2009, October 5). *Sleep and Cognition II: Memory (Procedural [Skills]).* Lecture given in Psychology 133 at the University of California, Berkeley, CA.
  7. Walker, M. P. (2009, October 7). *Sleep and Cognition III: Memory (Declarative [Facts]).* Lecture given in Psychology 133 at the University of California, Berkeley, CA.
  8. Wagner, U., Gais, S., Haider, H., Verleger, R. and Born, J. (2004). Sleep inspires insight. Nature 427, 352-355.
  9. Anwar, Yasmin An afternoon nap markedly boosts the brain’s learning capacity. URL accessed on 22 February 2010.
  10. includeonly>"Nap 'boosts' brain learning power", 21 February 2010. Retrieved on 22 February 2010.

External links

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