How Sleep, Learning, and Memory Coincide

How Sleep, Learning, and Memory CoincideUnfortunately, nobody truly understands the complexities of sleep, learning, and memory. However, there are some studies that suggest that both the quantity and the quality of a person’s rest profoundly impact their recollection. This is because when you don’t have enough rest you won’t be able to focus well and therefore you can’t learn efficiently.

How Sleep, Memory, and Learning are Interrelated

While nobody knows exactly how this works, there are three functions that are typically referred to here:

  • Acquisition: Introducing new information while you’re awake
  • Consolidation: Stabilizing your memories while your body is resting
  • Recall: Accessing stored information either consciously or unconsciously while you’re awake

During each of these stages, your brainwave’s specific characteristics help with the formation of your memories. This hypothesis has resulted in numerous researchers using one of the following approaches to understand the interrelatedness of these things. These approaches include:

  • Looking at the different stages of sleep and the changes that occur throughout each of them to discover how these help with learning new tasks
  • Looking at how a lack of any, some, or selected rest periods affect learning

Sleep Stages and Types of Memory

Each situation that presents itself as a learning opportunity will also allow you to form different types of memories. This has led some scientists to explore whether there’s a relationship between consolidating different types of memories and the various stages of sleep a person undergoes each night.

Initially, this research focused on what’s known as declarative memory (knowledge of fact-based information, a.k.a. “what” we know). During one of these studies, participants were asked to engage in an intensive course during which they learned a new language. Researchers then observed them sleeping. In doing so they noticed that they had more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the stage wherein dreams most frequently occur. These observations led researchers to conclude that this stage played an important role in learning new things. Since then researchers have also discovered that it’s also involved with declarative memory processes but only in regard to complex, emotionally charged information.

In other studies, researchers have looked at slow-wave sleep (SWS). This is the type of rest that is both deep and restorative. By studying it some researchers have determined that it plays an important role in processing and consolidating new information while others have received mixed results. This is why research is continuing in this area.

Other studies have looked at how sleeping impacts procedural memory (where you learn “how” to do something like riding a bike or play an instrument). Here they discovered that REM rest is very important in the consolidation of these memories. Of course, there are also other things that play a role here like how the light of rest you get. For instance, there are some types of visual learning that require you to have both SWS and REM rest in order to process them.

How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Learning and Performance

This is another area that researchers have been studying. In doing so they’ve discovered that when you don’t get enough rest your attention, focus and vigilance will begin to drift. This will make it more challenging for you to be able to accept new information because your neurons are being overworked. When this happens they’re unable to function in such a way that you’ll be able to properly coordinate information. You may also discover that you’re losing your ability to access the information you’ve learned in the past too.

Furthermore, this affects how you interpret events. This will prevent you from being able to accurately assess situations. In other words, it’s not just your memory that becomes impaired here. Your judgment does too.

Anyone who’s chronically tired or fatigued won’t be able to perform well. This is because neurons aren’t firing properly, muscles aren’t rested, and your body’s organs aren’t synchronized. When this starts to affect your memory you may even injure yourself unintentionally.

The Bottom Line

Research shows that there are a variety of stages involved with sleeping, each of which helps you work through various types of memories. This is why when you don’t get enough rest you can’t learn as well. If you find yourself struggling here, make sure you reach out to TMS Advantage in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Pinellas County, FL.

Picture Credit: Freepik

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