The most important part of being a successful learner, or indeed succeeding in nearly any part of life, might be getting your full forty winks every night, some scientists say. Repeated studies on the topic of sleep consistently return the general trend that not getting enough sleep is a serious impediment to academic achievement.
When it comes to learning, sleep is the time of the day when the brain fully processes everything it has absorbed during the course of the day. As part of this process, it physically makes the new connections within the grey matter of your mind which is where your new memories become stored. That’s why it’s so important to give the brain enough time to itself at night so that everything you learn becomes properly embedded in your memory.
Of course, it’s not just the processes of embedding memories that makes sleep so important. As anyone who ever sat through an early morning school lesson having not had enough sleep the night before can attest, getting enough sleep is crucial to having the alertness necessary in order to pay attention and absorb new facts and information. Without it, a student can struggle to stay awake at the very least and will be far less efficient and able to engage in the material.
So, what can you do to make sleep an essential part of your learning strategy? Here are a few of ADL’s favourite tips for you to sleep on:
Get at least 7 hours of sleep: While some individuals seem to get by on less, the general agreement is that the adult humans need about 7-8 hours of sleep to properly benefit from the sleeping cycle and to awake refreshed enough to engage again in learning the next day.
Getting anything less than four hours, however, will completely negate any benefits of learning – you won’t have rested long enough for your brain to have made any permanent bonds in anything you’ve studied that day and won’t be alert enough to successfully learn new things
Sleep at a regular time every night: The human body loves routine and pattern. That’s part of why bad habits are so easy to maintain or lapse into. But it is also something you should learn to recognize and use to your own benefit. If you get into the habit of say going to bed at 11 and rising at 7, your body will soon learn to recognize when it is time to sleep and respond appropriately.
Nap smartly, and avoid lie-ins: Naps and lie-ins can disrupt your normal sleep pattern, making it difficult for you to sleep when you need to later. While some people do benefit from having a nap, sleep taken in the middle of the afternoon has a high risk of negatively influencing your ability to sleep later that night. If you do need to nap, try to limit it to 30 minutes or less as any longer will result in you disrupting your natural sleep rhythms.
Darkness is your friend: For most of the time humans have existed we have had to regulate ourselves by the patterns of the sun, day and night. As a consequence, we have adapted to consider dark and night sleeping times, and lightness and day our waking time. Hence when you sleep you will have better results if the room is kept dark. Turn off the TV’s and computers, close the curtains and avoid any unnecessary lights.
No Horror Stories Before Lights Out: It’s not so much that you’ll have nightmares (though that is it’s own risk to be fair), but the increased stimulation that comes from more demanding activities can instil primal reactions such as fear or get the adrenaline running. This is fantastic if, for example, you need to make a getaway from flesh-eating zombies but does make it harder to get to sleep if you are on edge. Consider instead a more relaxing activity such as reading or listening to relaxing music in the time leading towards bed.