Sleep On It - How To Turbocharge Overnight Learning
A test tomorrow morning? An overdue assignment due at 9.00am? Faced with such challenges most people steal some sleeping time to get the work done. Sure, everyone knows you should try and get a good night’s sleep, but who has the confidence to lie back and believe that simply falling asleep will help things happen.
Well, not only should you have more confidence in the amazing properties of sleep that can help enhance learning, but you can tip the balance more in your favour by some simple strategies.
The science of sleep memory and learning is literally exploding with endless new discoveries that we can all take of advantage of right now.
It was established over 100 years ago that sleep reduces forgetfulness, and strengthens the memories. But sleep goes further than just reinforcing memories. People have been known to solve complicated dilemmas in their sleep and even improve skills more than they would by a full day’s practice, just by getting a good night’s sleep. This remarkable learning enhancer works right through the lifespan. Even infants of 6 to 16 months learn new word meanings or actions if they nap after the learning.
So at the simplest level a good night’s sleep is essential to retain what you are trying to learn, or solve. Good sleep behaviour is one of the strongest behaviours in predicting final grades of students doing medical exams.
But there is a push to enhance learning and memory during sleep and turbocharge learning beyond normal limits. I’m going visit some of the non-medication based exciting solutions that you could use right now – there is plenty to take advantage of without needing to turn to unproven drugs with unknown side-effects.
Fortunately this is one of the great areas where you can change things around really easily. There are a number of options that will start working on the night you start using them!
For the added sleep learning benefits to really kick in you need to be studying your chosen task within three hours of going to sleep. But this doesn’t mean there is no point revising during the day – you can learn during the day, but do a quick ‘summary-points’ run-through about an hour before bedtime. It’s not just children that benefit from daytime naps, even brief daytime sleeps in adults can improve memory although these don’t replace the importance of a whole nights good sleep.
Cue memory enhancements- wake up smelling of roses
In a famous experiment a daytime computer memory game was accompanied by the smell of roses. Those people who were again given the rose scent whilst they slept, performed better on the game that those that were not. It also seems that sounds cued in whilst learning can have the same effect when replayed during the night. This all needs doing with a little care – don’t choose a particular section of loud music that might disturb your sleep in the night.
Positive Thinking and Incentivised Learning
Positive thinking seems to play a role in overnight learning. This comes from studies where the subjects who knew they would be tested the next morning did better than those that did not. This links with the other important aspect of trying to make learning more relevant and rewarding for you – give yourself incentives the next day if you have remembered well. So if you’ve followed all the steps from this blog, and you’ve learnt something within three hours of bedtime think positive and expect to remember it all well in the morning!
Training Brain Waves
This is an important area that deserves a blog of its own one day soon. The basic principle is that the use of external electric stimulation (to the forehead) or the right type of noise (pink noise), or even careful hypnosis, can all ‘improve’ the natural slow sleep rhythms that are the most important for sleep and learning. I do not recommend any of the ‘home’ transcranial electrical stimulation devices, but some of the simple apps that generate pink noise (another computer generated noise-like white noise but sounds a bit more like running water to me) might help. Bear in mind that in the actual studies even the noises were carefully timed to fit with the underlying sleep rhythms and an app on all night might not be as effective.
Good luck and happy healthy sleeping!