Sleep is something many of us take for granted. We’re so focused on trying to squeeze more time out of the day that we sometimes forget just how important sleep is. Yet, sometimes our bodies remind us that we’re lacking sleep in different ways, including the way we react to learning. Here’s why sleep is important for retaining knowledge and how it affects studying.
Sleep is a very interesting activity. Subjectively, sleep feels good. It’s something many of us enjoy and for a good reason. However, what happens behind the curtains is much more interesting. When you sleep, your body is undergoing healing and decontamination. During the day, we aggravate our muscles, but more importantly, our brains collect a certain amount of toxins as a result of various chemical reactions necessary for normal bodily functions.
All of those toxins stay with you during the day, all the way until you go to sleep. When you fall asleep, the brain starts working on clearing out these toxins. How? By releasing an increased amount of cerebrospinal fluid in and around the brain. In other words, your body is literally washing away all the unwanted debris that is building up between brain cells during the day.
By the time you’re awake, your brain is all freshened up and ready to take on another day worth of work. However, if you don’t sleep, you’re preventing your brain from decontaminating some of its sensitive areas. Lack of sleep can increase your chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease, it also negatively affects your cardiovascular health and so much more.
If lack of sleep is negatively affecting your body in such severe ways that it can lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s not a stretch to realize that it also affects your ability to learn. Many students have found themselves between a rock and a hard place during their time in school. Some are using a sleep time calculator to figure out an optimal sleeping schedule. However, many of them have decided to spend a few sleepless nights studying right before an exam.
Even though that feels like a legitimate solution to the problem, trading sleep for more study time isn’t always the best thing to do. Your brain’s ability to retain new knowledge is directly dependent on the amount of sleep you’re getting every night.
Sleep affects studying in two ways. First, lack of sleep puts you in a sleep-deprived state where you are unable to focus on the matter at hand. This is especially true for those instances where you’re trying to handle massive amounts of information in a small period of time.
Before your brain can retain any knowledge, it first needs to acquire it. Acquisition of knowledge is heavily dependent on your ability to focus. A sleep-deprived brain will struggle to stay zeroed in on one activity as it slowly runs out of fuel. Skipping a night of sleep, especially after a day full of activities, can increase the levels of toxins in the brain to a point where they affect your cognitive abilities.
Experiencing a lack of focus is a textbook sign of sleep deprivation and is something you should be taken seriously.
Simply feeding your brain new information is only the first part of the puzzle. Information retention is a process that requires more than just exposure to new data. Your brain has to go through a process known as memory consolidation. In other words, once your brain is fed new information, it has to process the new data and settle it among existing memories. It’s a similar process to defragmenting a hard drive.
It’s memory consolidation that is suffering the most when you’re operating on insufficient sleep. Your brain will struggle to internalize new information, requiring you to read or watch something over and over again. That type of studying is anything but efficient. Especially since it increases stress, and we know that stress has negative effects on your health.
There’s another dimension to learning that happens after you’ve called it a night. When you sleep, your brain is still crunching on the data it was exposed to during your study session. The new information is being processed and internalized, allowing you to recall certain parts of it in the morning with no issues.
In the end, it becomes obvious that skipping sleep affects your ability to learn in more than one way. When you’re sleep-deprived, your focus will be down, your brain won’t be able to process the information it is being exposed to, and lack of sleep prevents your brain from internalizing any processed data.
When you add the rest of the negative effects associated with sleep deprivation, it becomes obvious that lack of sleep is the worst thing you can do when trying to learn.
Sleep is something that needs to be taken seriously. A part of that is knowing of a static sleep schedule. Your body needs consistency when it comes to sleep. The more consistent your sleep pattern is, the more efficient your sleep will be. Of course, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is just one part of the equation.
Another massive piece of that same equation is your choice of bed and mattress. Most people take this part very lightly. Lack of comfort in your own bed can have massive implications on your quality of sleep and your ability to rejuvenate your body during the night. A good bed and a quality mattress are both investments. You should treat them as such.
Lastly, it is also worth looking into various ways you can adapt your study habits. In other words, try to optimize your studying sessions so that you’re always getting the most out of them.
Make time in your schedule to study during the day when you feel most energetic, and avoid procrastination, as difficult as that may sound. Doing so will ensure that you can go to sleep at optimal times and get the rest you need to accomplish your daily tasks.