Sleep on it to learn

By Siski Green , Friday 22 February 2013

Sleep helps you process memories and learn new tasks, say researchers.
SleepingResearchers find that sleep helps you process memories and learn new tasks

Numerous studies have shown that sleep enhances memory recall but now new research indicates that deep sleep may also help free up the brain to learn new things once you’re awake again.

Researchers from the University of Lübeck, Germany, wanted to assess whether slow-wave activity – a state your brain enters during deep sleep – was responsible for better brain encoding once you wake up.

It’s possible to simulate slow-wave activity in the brain and so, in theory, it could be possible to enhance a person’s short nap by simulating slow-wave activity. Slow wave activity (SWA) occurs in your brain when you’re at the deepest point of sleep – at the point where it’s most difficult to rouse you. There is no rapid-eye movement during this time and other research has shown that this is exactly the time when new memories are processed and consolidated.

In one group of study participants the researchers simulated slow-wave activity using transcranial slow oscillation stimulation (TSOS); another group, the control group, thought they were having the same treatment but weren’t.

How differently study participants’ brains functioned as a result was tested via different methods – picture recognition, recalling words in lists or in pairs – both before the nap and after.

The results showed that slow-wave activity did enhance participants’ abilities to encode information – their test results were significantly better than those who did not have the same slow-wave activity stimulation.

So how can you put this information to good use? Sleep! But most importantly make sure that your deeper sleep periods aren’t interrupted.

Eat a snack before bed. A slice of cheese and a cracker is ideal to keep hunger pangs at bay during the night.

Shut out light. Black-out blinds or curtains will help prevent light from passing traffic, or even the passing moon, from waking you up before you want to.

Keep the noise down. Ear plugs will prevent any random noises from waking you up.

Have a bath. Being relaxed is key to getting a good night’s sleep, so have a long soak before bedtime.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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