learning while you sleep

Learning While You Sleep

A lot has been written about sleep. Many studies into the quality and quantity of sleep have been done. Does this have any bearing on our children and their learning? Let’s have a look at some research.

Scientists have known for decades that much consolidation of learning and memory occurs during sleep. Our brains do not simply shut down. But how can they learn?

In November 2013, scientists from the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University, USA, presented revolutionary new research to the Society for Neuroscience. The research helped to explain the specifics of how the brain masters a new task while sleeping. Associate professor, Yuka Sasaki, said that more energy is available for the brain during sleep, as there are fewer distractions. Sleep improves a wide range of motor and cognitive functions, such as playing the piano or mastering a skill.

There are four stages of sleep that occur every ninety minutes during sleep. Each stage has different brain waves that are associated with different states of consciousness, learning, creativity and memory. During sleep the various combinations of brain waves consolidate learning in one area of the brain, and link it to other parts of the brain. Deep slow-wave sleep is necessary for learning to occur.

Sleep is not just a waste of time. It is vital for the brain to reorganize information for learning to occur. Adults are designed to spend one-third of their time sleeping. Children need even more. Insufficient sleep leads to lower metabolism and increased appetite, and can therefore cause weight gain.

Regular physical activity and a healthy diet will lead to a better night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is essential to learning and memory. For the amount of sleep children should be getting per night, refer to Lesson 8 in Study Right ZA: Study Skills for Grades 6 – 8. It is this author’s experience that very many children are not getting enough sleep per night, and this negatively affects their ability to learn and concentrate at school.

Foods that can enhance sleep include bananas, almonds, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread or a glass of warm milk taken before bedtime. To further enhance the quality of sleep, the room should be darkened and not too warm. Sleepwear should be non-allergenic and comfortable. Remove distractions from the room, such as electronic devices (cellphones, tablets, television, etc). If noise is a problem, consider using earplugs or play a radio softly, slightly off the station.





  • Angela

    Hi Karen when I was at school we had an amazing teacher for science in matric. She had a 100% pass rate with her pupils and she always emphasized the importance of sleep. It is essential for someone studying to have a rested brain. Thanks for the reminders.

  • Jeni

    Spot on Karen! I have read some of this research and tried to convince the teenagers I come across…. no point in cramming until 2 in the morning, you’re just wasting time.

  • Carol

    Sleep.. Definitely apart from the brain processes a good rest helps with concentration when reading and writing the exam. Let’s be honest – you can’t cram. What you don’t know the night before the exam you still won’t know the next day. All studying should be completed 2 days before exam and last two afternoons recap and relax…

  • Karen Gottschalk

    Thank you for all the positive comments! I appreciate them. I wish that I could get as much sleep as I need!

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