As I sit here in my hotel room in Wuxi, China I am struggling to stay awake and do my homework. I have been in China less than 24 hours and I have not yet adjusted to the new schedule so I am exhausted. My eyes are watering, I am having a hard time focusing, and I am basically just tired. It is somewhat ironic, then, that I found two different articles that deal with the apparent importance of sleep and how it affects memory. Both articles are written by Matthew Walker, Ph.D. and both articles support his view that sleep plays an important role in learning and memory functions.
The first article from Neurological Review (2010) presents research that suggests that a midday nap allows a person to learn better. Walker sites a research experiment that tested the subject's ability to learn after a nap and found they had improved learning abilities compared to a control group who did not nap. Apparently the part of the brain called the hippocampus can basically become full of information and needs to be emptied before more learning can take place. The nap allows the hippocampus to be emptied as long as the correct stage of sleep is reached during the nap.
The second article is more technical in nature and presents findings that support the notion that sleep not only helps learning it also helps memory. In fact, in the article from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry (2008) Walker presents research that sleep improves memories that were starting to decay, in effect repairing memories that might otherwise be lost. The article provides research that also states that sleep is important before and after learning is taking place to ensure that the brain is ready to learn and that once learning occurs the memories are properly stored.
I feel these two articles are particularly useful considering how easy it could be to improve learning just by getting enough sleep. According to the articles the affect of sleep on our ability to learn and remember correctly is rather dramatic. This week I have been learning about how the brain works in order to create better educational materials, but maybe the best training material I could ever create is simply a lesson on how to get the right amount of sleep.
All this talk about sleep is reminding me that I am really tired. I think I will stop typing and just go to bed.
Walker, Matthew P., A Midday Nap Markedly Boosts the Brain's Learning Capacity, Neurology Reviews, Apr 2010, Vol. 18 Issue 4, p12-12
ISSN: 10754598 Accession Number: 49221677
Walker, Matthew P., Sleep Dependent Memory Processing, Harvard Review of Psychiatry; Sep/Oct2008, Vol. 16 Issue 5, p287-298, 12p
ISSN: 10673229 Accession Number: 34399585