Sleep – The Key Ingredient in Retaining Learning

(Information summarized from Scipps Howard News Service—Star Tribune article Nov 24, 2000)

You may need to “sleep on it” to effectively learn, according to a Harvard Medical School study.

The research (published by Nature Neuroscience journal), adds evidence that sleep is needed for learning; denying sleep the night after learning a new task seems to muddle memory consolidation.

The study found that NO amount of sleep on the following two nights can make up for the toll of an all-nighter.

“You need sleep that first night if you want to improve on the task,” according to Robert Stickgold, lead author of the study.

Sleep is important for maintaining attention and alertness when we’re trying to learn. But scientists at Harvard and elsewhere have found that the process of turning information form a short-term to a long-term, useful memory seems to require getting a good night’s sleep.

Specifically, brain-imaging tests and other experiments point to a chemical released during dreaming that passes messages between brain cells and seem to consolidate memory.

In an earlier experiment, Stickgold and colleagues found that people who learned a task did not improve their performance when tested later the same day, but did do better remembering it after a night of sleep.

“We think that getting that first night’s sleep starts the process of memory consolidation. It seems that memories normally wash out of the brain unless some process nails them down. My suspicion is that sleep is one of those things that does the nailing down,” said Stickgold.

Good luck!