Having trouble learning? Get some rest

Do you schedule breaks and rests during your working, writing, and learning?  Do you make time for sleep in your life?   A new article by Ingrid L. C. Nieuwenhuis et al., published June 5th in the journal PLOS ONE, provides another piece of evidence that you should.

Sleep is an important step for proper learning.  Photo source: Wikipedia
Sleep is an important step for proper learning.


The details of the study involved exposing participants to complex strings of letters that followed unknown rules, and then teaching the participants the rules.  They would then leave the lab and come back 15 minutes, 12 hours (sleeping), or 12 hours (awake) later to retest.  The authors found that the group who slept  performed better at classifying the letter strings upon their return- sleep played some role in understanding the grammatical rules they were taught.

This is one piece of information in a body of literature that suggests we make information network connections in our sleep.  Learning can be thought of as a web- every fact is connected to another, and another.  Understanding how things are connected is a powerful way to learn.  For example, in Biology, we often classify organisms according to Kingdom of life.  We then learn what attributes plants and animals have in common, and what traits separate them.   This study shows that sleep may be an important part of processing, and connecting, such information.


Here at Cornell, the all-nighter is an all too common occurrence.  This may be fine for simply retaining facts, but if your exam challenges you to make connections between your information, or demonstrate higher learning, you might be better off getting a good night’s rest.


Article source:

Nieuwenhuis ILC, Folia V, Forkstam C, Jensen O, Petersson KM (2013) Sleep Promotes the Extraction of Grammatical Rules. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65046. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065046


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