As a student who has to assimilate a lot of information in a limited space of time, you may be looking at ways to help this process. Did you know that not only how much you sleep but when you sleep, what you do before you sleep and possibly during the early stage of your sleep can impact your learning? That’s because the mind makes sense of and files memories while you rest during different stages of the sleep cycle. There are three main aspects of learning and memory. They are acquiring new knowledge, consolidating this information, and then being able to recall it later on, according to Harvard Medical School. And, as it turns out, sleep is important in various ways to all three aspects.
Sleep Combined With Repetitive Learning Has Loads Of Benefits
When you cram, you store information in your short-term memory only. This is why repetition (and giving yourself enough time to repeatedly memorise your notes) is critical. You end up storing information long-term. Now a new Psychological Science study shows that repetition combined with sleep is even more effective.
According to this research, sleeping in between two sessions of proper memorisation (not cramming) showed three distinct learning benefits. The first was that you’ll retain the information better and therefore be able to recall it better, than if you don’t sleep and just have one long, marathon study session. Secondly, in the study session, after you wake up, you are able to relearn anything you may have forgotten quite quickly. Thirdly, this ‘sleeping in between’ strategy’ improved long-term memory. You’ll be able to recall the information for much longer afterward, than had you not taken that sleep break.
You Can Learn While You Sleep
This doesn’t mean you can study without ever being awake though. In this experiment by Swiss scientists on German participants, they found that the stage of sleep matters. Recordings of new information were played to participants during early or slow-wave sleep, not REM or deep sleep. Interestingly, theta brain waves were emitted by the sleeping participants who listened to the recordings. Theta brain waves are the same ones emitted when you learn something new.
To use the technique, the information you’re listening to has to be very clear and logical, or you’ll end up remembering the wrong thing. This would be a good way to listen to essay-type answers, for example.
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Sync With Your Circadian Rhythms Is Best
Your body’s internal clock regulates when you sleep and wake. It also helps regulate when your brain is most alert. So, if your body needs 8 hours of sleep not 6, factor in more study days to accommodate this. Notice when you feel most ‘alive’ and make that the time to study complex information.
If your sleep-wake cycle is messed up, use a natural and mild melatonin supplement.
Combining sleeping with repetitive study methods, synching with your circadian cycle and learning while you sleep empower you to harness the power of rest to speed up your learning.