There are several hypothesis to explain the correlation between learning and sleep. Research indicates that sleep does more than allowing the brain to rest, but also have an important role in learning.
Before exploring the relationship between sleep and learning, let’s define a learning model. There are three stages in learning: Acquisition, Consolidation and Recall. Acquisition is the first step of learning. It’s when we introduce ourselves to new information. Consolidation is the stage where we integrate all this new information into our long-term memory. Finally, recall is our ability to retrieve those information from our memories.
Attention plays a key role during Acquisition stage. The attention given to a certain subject during this stage of learning helps to determine if that information is going to be Consolidated. Absentmindedness is a memory failure due this lack of attention. Sleep deprived people have decreased motivation, lack or energy, poor mood, and shorter attention span. Therefore, decreasing the learning efficiency.
Recall also share mental mechanisms with cognitive and physical skills. The consequences of sleep deprivation affects how quickly and precisely we are able to recover this information from our long-term memories and apply them in the daily life.
During Stage 2 of sleep, there is a phenomena called Spindle. It’s a short burst of brain waves that lasts around a second. During a single night, a person might have over a thousand of those. This event is not well understood by the scientists. One hypothesis is that Spindles have some relation with transfer of memory from hippocampus to the frontal cortex, responsible for consolidation of long-term memories. The number of Spindles declines with age, which is thought to have some relation to overall mental decline over time. Reducing stage 2 sleep might limit the ability to consolidate knowledge from the previous day.
Sleep is also important in order to learn more complex, abstract concepts. While REM sleep does not seem to have a key role in consolidation of new memories. This sleep stage helps us to extract generalization from those memories, and is related to higher-order mental functions that makes us human.
In Stage 2 and 3, the day’s experiences are transferred from short-term to long-term memory. In REM sleep, the new memories are integrated with old memories, the view of the world and abstractions.
Non-declarative memories are also consolidated during the REM stage. This kind of memory is responsible for tasks we do without consciously thinking about them. Driving, learning a musical instrument, dancing and practicing sports are good examples of it.
Learning is a lifelong endeavor that opens many opportunities, economically or philosophically. Improving sleep, we improve our capacity to learn. Along with good health, we believe learning is an important part of living a fulfilling life, and that’s one of the reasons why we developed Moona.