The Relationship Between Studying and Sleep

Posted by Darian Dozier on Dec 13, 2021 8:00:00 AM

The Relationship Between Studying and Sleep

If you are a student, and have trouble with sleeping, you may notice trouble with learning, attention, and memory. These three factors go into studying and doing well on assignments and tasks. Read more to find out the relationship between studying and sleep to see if you can improve your sleep and learning efforts!

Sleep and memory 

It's important to understand the relationship between sleep and memory because memory is required for learning. The process of memory is acquisition (learning new information), consolidation (the process in which a memory becomes stable), and recall (the ability to access that information. All three of these steps are necessary for proper memory function, but research suggests that consolidation is the only one that takes place during sleep. 

While you are sleeping, neuronal connections are increasing in number and strength, making memories (and learned information) stronger and easier to recall. 

Research has focused on how different stages of sleep impact different types of memory. Early sleep research found that declarative memory, or memory involving facts such as the capital of China, may have been consolidated during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. However, different research argues that deeper sleeps, like stage 3, are better for consolidating declarative memories. 

Research has also looked at procedural memories. Procedural memories are how to do something, such as riding a bike. These memories have been connected with increased REM sleep. Of these memories, motor memories seem to consolidate with increased stages of lighter sleep, and visual learning seems to depend on the amount of deep, slow-wave sleep. 

Sleep and attention 

Sleep and attention go together hand in hand because a tired brain only focuses on the basics of survival. Anything else is going to take a toll on the limited energy storage the brain is already working with. So imagine trying to study and learn while you're tired. Your brain is simply not going to go for it. 

Getting a good night's sleep is the best way to improve your attention. By improving your attention span, you will be able to improve the acquisition piece of building memories. When you are studying, and working to memorize something, you're going to want your attention to be on a full capacity so you can really take in everything that you're trying to learn. 

The impact of sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a major torpedo to studying efforts. You don't have the mental capacity to do much of anything, much less learn and memorize something. When you don't allow your brain to spend a lot of time in those varying sleep stages, then it doesn't have a chance to consolidate anything. 

If you are studying, learning new material at night, right before you go to bed is going to be your best bet. If you have an exam or something you're studying for, it's better to go to sleep than to pull an all-nighter. Sometimes the anxiety of not knowing enough can really keep us awake, however, you won't memorize anything that you "learned" while in a sleep deprived state. However, by sleeping, you'll have a better chance of holding on to whatever you learned, even if you think it's just a little bit! 

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