Why does sleep help us learn?

Sleep is a necessity. If we are to make it physically and mentally the next day, we must have slept well the night before. Only by having good sleep hygiene can we wake up feeling rested and energized.

But in addition to recharging our sleep, it can be our best ally to consolidate the learning we have done the day before. Sleeping well every night can be the factor that guarantees our academic success.

Why does sleep help us learn? Apparently when we sleep we are just resting, but in reality our brains continue to function and in a way that is very beneficial to us. Let’s find out below.

    How does sleep contribute to learning?

    No one doubts that sleep is a basic vital function. Sleeping our 8 hours recharges our batteries, giving us all the energy we have wasted throughout the day.

    Thanks to the fact that we disconnect at night, our body goes through a series of processes that allow our body to recover everything it has spent the day before. A good dream makes us wake up rested, preparing us physically and mentally for what has prepared us for the day we begin.

    Many people consider the act of sleeping to be synonymous with the most absolute physical and mental inactivity.. However, even if the consciousness turns off during sleep, our brain continues to function and it is through this brain work that while we sleep, it helps us learn better. In addition to waking us up the next day with more concentration and clarity, sleep makes our brain work by actively consolidating the learnings that were made the day before.

    When we sleep, neural connections are formed which allow us to explain why knowledge is better installed while we are sleeping, as long as this dream is of good quality. New dendritic spines are created, especially in the phase of non-REM shortwave sleep, which is deep sleep and occurs during the first hours of the night and in which no dreams are generated.

    Since sleep makes it possible to better assimilate acquired knowledge, acquiring a good sleep pattern should be key for students of any level of education, Especially in high school, pre-college and college, as it is students in these three levels who are most likely to go to bed late before an exam.

    It should be critical for these students avoid evening study sessionsMainly because of how they affect the amount and quality of sleep later, if they do fall asleep.

    The importance of good sleep to internalize knowledge

    Although it’s no secret that sleeping well positively influences our cognitive abilities, many students do not appreciate the importance of good sleep hygiene and their relation to better performance in the face of academic demands. Not only do they not get enough sleep, but they do things that make it even more difficult for them to fall asleep, like abusing screens, taking huge amounts of caffeine, and studying at the last minute of the day.

    As we mentioned, sleep doesn’t just provide us with the physical and mental rest we need after a full day of consuming our resources. On top of that, sleeping allows us to properly establish the knowledge we have learned throughout the day. Sleeping well helps us learn what we saw the night before. Despite this, many students are convinced that depriving them of a night’s sleep and doing a big “brood” will help them pass the exam the next day. Cras error.

    Although we stop paying attention to something we are learning, the brain keeps working on it, processing. Our brains perform various activities to consolidate this new knowledge and keep it in our long-term memory. If it is true that this process begins as soon as we encode the information, that is to say from the moment we have received and understood it, it is during sleep that the consolidation process takes place. in the most efficient way.

    This consolidation process involves the neuronal reactivation of the representations that were encoded upon awakening, that is, when we sleep, we activate the same parts of the brain that were activated when we were learning something, either in class, or by revising the program. So while we sleep, it’s like we are doing a review of what has been seen hours before, but this time we are doing it subconsciously.

    In addition to this unconscious examination, sleep contributes to our learning make them relate recent ideas with others more or less distant but have a kind of relationship. That is, thanks to sleep, we are more likely to have “revelations” the next day, associating what we are learning now with topics from other subjects and courses or with a personal experience that can be related. . In short, sleeping improves learning and also encourages creativity.

      Factors that interfere with sleep

      There are two factors which negatively affect the quality and quantity of students’ sleep and which are directly related to their ability to learn.. The first concerns the abuse of new technologies, in particular video games and screens, while the second concerns the consumption of caffeine, a star substance in the study sessions and the only substance to which minors have legal access.

      electronic appliances

      Video games are the most widely used entertainment in childhood and adolescence and are also the most demonized by alleged experts. There are many beasts that have been said about this form of leisure, one of which dates back to violent, impulsive, less intelligent young people and other mistakes.

      This is all wrong, but it should be noted that its use in the hours before bedtime can affect sleep because many video games increase alertness and emotionally stimulate. Video games can wake us up and keep us from falling asleep.

      Another technological factor that has a negative impact on sleep consolidation is the use of screens in general, in particular the use of cell phones. Screen abuse hours before bedtime has been linked to greater difficulty falling asleep because supposedly if bright light is received from these devices at night, the nocturnal secretion of melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, is inhibited. The body believes that it is during the day that the circadian cycles are altered, which makes it difficult for us to sleep at night and worsens the quality of our sleep.

      Caffeinated drinks

      Caffeine also affects the consolidation of learning during sleep. It is a common culture that drinks such as coffee, tea or anything that contains caffeine wakes us up and prevents us from falling asleep, especially if we take it at night, but also and contrary to what many people think. , has repercussions. negative in our cognitive abilities.

      Caffeinated drinks such as cola, tea, coffee or hot chocolate are products that minors have easy access to. We saw that prolonged use leads children to sleep an average of 15 minutes less each night, Which greatly affects your rest and performance the next day.

      But on top of that, regular consumption of these substances leads to a decrease in cognitive performance, which may even seem counterintuitive given that the reason for their use is usually to ‘get smart’.

      If consumed on time, caffeine can increase our alertness and attention. However, if its consumption is common, what happens is that it reduces cognitive function. It’s not that we’re getting smarter with more coffee drinks, but it’s it is more difficult for us to concentrate and pay attention.

      In fact, there comes a time where to get to have the same concentration that we had before becoming dependent, we must increase the dose of caffeine, because we have generated tolerance and dependence.

      It is for this reason that no drink containing caffeine should be given to a child under any circumstances because, although it is not a drug such as cannabis, alcohol or tobacco, caffeine impairs the brain, causes addiction and makes it possible to concentrate better, they have to take more and more of it. Additionally, the vast majority of caffeinated drinks found on the market contain huge amounts of sugar, another reason why this type of soft drink shouldn’t be given to most little ones.

      In short, caffeine affects school performance in two ways. One, which is the best known, is that alters sleep both qualitatively and quantitatively, depriving us of a process that helps consolidate the knowledge acquired in class. The other is that the higher the consumption, the more addiction is generated and the more it takes to have normal attention and focus.


      Considering all of the above, it is extremely counterproductive for our learning to spend the night blank, study the night before the exam, drink lots of coffee, and stay awake while we look at the grades. the screen.

      We will be tired but awake, we will not give our brain a chance to make connections between the ideas learned and our learning will be very unstructured and they will last very little in our memory.

      It is recommended that you do not do the study session immediately before bedtime, even if you intend to sleep at a recommended time (10 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.) and even if the study is well dosed. If you want to study a bit before bed, it’s best to review the notes, not do any summaries, diagrams, or any cognitively demanding activity. because it will wake us up and it will influence the consolidation of sleep.

      While many people argue that it was best for them to study at night, the truth is, it’s counterproductive. The arrival of the night is the arrival of the end of the day and this is noticeable because we are very tired. We have been spending energy all day and the body is noticing it, although we don’t want to admit it. We’ve been awake for almost 16 hours! Starting to study at night will only delay our sleep, although we will be tired and it will not give us the knowledge.

      That is why the best thing to do is to leave the study session during the early hours of the afternoon, Between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Many studies indicate that starting the study at this point, after several hours have passed since we ate and there is still light, is perfect for studying concentrates. In the wee hours of the morning you can try, but it is generally not recommended because although we have started the day and therefore are not tired, we are still under the influence of sleep.

      Bibliographical references:

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      • Wagner, U. et al. (2004). Sleep inspires knowledge. Nature, 427 (6972), 352-355.
      • Dworak, M. and Wiater, A. (2014). Impact on excessive media exposure on sleep and memory in children and adolescents. Youth, media and health: risks and rights. Nordicom, 99-110.
      • Higuchi, S. et al. (2003). Effects of VDT tasks with a bright screen at night on melatonin, core temperature, heart rate and drowsiness. Journal of Applied Physiology, 94 (5), 1773-1776.
      • Calamaro, CJ et al. (2009). Adolescents Living the 24/7 Lifestyle: Effects of Caffeine and Technology on Sleep Duration and Daytime Function. Pediatrics, 123 (6), e1005-e1010.
      • James, JE and Rogers, PJ (2005). Effects of caffeine on performance and mood: Reversal of withdrawal is the most plausible explanation. Psychopharmacology, 182 (1), 1-8.
      • Heatherley, SV et al. (2006). Psychostimulant and other effects of caffeine in children aged 9-11 years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47 (2), 135-142.
      • Ruiz-Martin, H. (2020) How do we learn? A scientific approach to learning and teaching. Spain, Graó.
      • Ruiz-Martin, H. (2020) Learning to Learn: Improve Your Ability to Learn by Uncovering How Your Brain Learns. Spain, Random House.

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