Studies confirm your teacher’s advice about getting enough sleep
Conventional wisdom says that sleep is an important part of learning (remember your teachers telling you to get a good night’s sleep before a big test?), but what is your brain actually doing while you are sleeping?
Memory is the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information. Learning is related to memory – it is the process of acquiring or modifying skills, behaviors, knowledge, or preferences. Different parts of the brain are responsible for different types of learning and memories. The hippocampus is involved in spatial learning and the amygdala is involved in emotional memory. Sensory input actually changes the neurons in the brain, even after the input is gone. This alters the connections between neurons, called synapses. At the physical level, these changes become memories.
So what happens when you sleep?
Scientists have always said that sleep deprivation negatively affects learning and a recent study by scientist at NYU supports this notion. This study looks at how sleep changed the brains of mice learning to run on a rotating rod. Mice which were learning the new skill showed growth of new dendritic spines. Sleep deprivation decreased the growth of new spines. This decrease could not be reversed by additional training or sleep after the first deprivation. Additionally, the sleep deprived mice did not perform the task of running on the rod as well as the rested mice. While the animals were sleeping, the neurons used in performing the task were reactivated, contributing to their growth. So it looks like mothers and teachers have had it right all along – it is important to get your rest!
Yang G, Lai CS, Cichon J, Ma L, Li W, & Gan WB (2014). Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning. Science (New York, N.Y.), 344 (6188), 1173-8 PMID: 24904169
Euston DR, & Steenland HW (2014). Neuroscience. Memories–getting wired during sleep. Science (New York, N.Y.), 344 (6188), 1087-8 PMID: 24904140