Staying up until dawn to cram in some last-minute studying? Pulling an all-nighter before a big exam? Working late to get your pharmacy technician certificate? Congratulations, that type of dedication to your studies will assuredly help you achieve success, but don’t skip out on a good night’s sleep! While scientists have been able to link sleep to memory for some time, a recent study indicates why sleep is so important in helping humans learn. So, if you’re debating a few more hours of studying over a good night of shuteye, consider the results of this research when weighing your study options.
The benefits of sleep
A healthy amount of sleep has been proven to provide a wide array of benefits to physical, intellectual and emotional health. Studies have found that a good night’s sleep can increase your life expectancy, encourage creativity and help maintain safe driving performance.1
A study conducted by Stanford University found that college football players performed better on the field when they accumulated more sleep.2 The thought process behind this study is that many college athletes, busy students and workers build up a debt of sleep, that is, they don’t sleep enough on a daily basis. This eventually makes them function on a sub-optimal level. Though the athletes in this study believed their sleep habits were not inhibiting them, after sleeping for a longer duration each night, they performed better on reaction tests and reported less fatigue throughout the day. However, too much sleep, generally characterized by more than 10 hours per night, potentially has negative effects to health as well.
Mentally, a healthy amount of sleep has been linked to academic success as well as the ability to pay attention.3 As sleep has been found to increase alertness and reaction time, it makes focusing in the classroom easier. For students in a high stress environment, the demand to perform is potentially only exacerbated by a lack of sleep. This is why adhering to study tactics such as cramming can cause more harm than good. Another study found that poor sleep quality correlates to cognitive decline in older men.4 Maintaining routine sleep habits, therefore, helps promote long term educational success and mental function.
Emotionally, studies have demonstrated that a healthy amount of sleep helps reduce stress and helps prevent clinical depression.5 One such study found that insomnia can be a useful marker in determining depression.6 As emotional, mental and physical health are all linked, sleep deprivation can influence all of these aspects of health simultaneously.
How sleep helps our memory
Despite evidence of many correlations between sleep and overall health, scientists have struggled to explain exactly what effect sleep has on memory function. A study conducted by New York University and Beijing University has recently found that non-rapid eye movement sleep promotes the formation of postsynaptic dendritic spines in mice.7 Mice that experienced a healthy amount of sleep formed more synaptic connections than those that were sleep deprived. This research demonstrates that sleep encourages memory storage. The team of scientists additionally found that disrupting sleeping mice negatively effected synaptic formation as well.
This research reinforces the claim that regular and healthy sleep habits not only have immediate physical and mental health benefits but also have a long-term impact on our cognitive ability to retain information. Healthy sleep habits require getting enough rest on a regular basis. Catching up on sleep on the weekends is a sign that you are not logging enough hours during the rest of the week. The message for those hitting the books seems clear–study diligently, but get some rest.
1“Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes” NCSDR/NHTSA Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue and Sleepiness. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/drowsy.htmlhttp://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6188/1173
2“Stanford athletes sleep for better performance” by Erin Allday. SFGate. July 4, 2011. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Stanford-athletes-sleep-for-better-performance-2355759.php
3“Sleep. Eat. Perform?” by Reut Gruber, PhD. Sleep Journal. http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=27950
4“Poor sleep quality linked to cognitive decline in older men” American Academy of Sleep Medicine. March 31, 2014. http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=4661
5“Sleep disturbance and psychiatric disorders: A longitudinal epidemiological study of young Adults” by Naomi Breslau, Thomas Roth, Leon Rosenthal, Patricia Andreski. Biological Psychiatry. February 15, 1995. http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/0006-3223(95)00188-3/abstract
6“Sleep disturbance and psychiatric disorders: A longitudinal epidemiological study of young Adults” by Naomi Breslau, Thomas Roth, Leon Rosenthal, Patricia Andreski. Biological Psychiatry. February 15, 1995. http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/0006-3223(95)00188-3/abstract
7“Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning” by Guang Yang, Cora Sau Wan Lai, Joseph Cichon, Lei Ma, Wei Li, Wen-Biao Gan. Science Magazine. June 2014. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6188/1173