February 2004 Issue
Learning continues to take place while we sleep
By Gary K. Probst, Prince George's Community College
"It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it." - John Steinbeck
Everyone knows a good night's sleep is required to refresh the body. However, most people do not know sleep is also required for intellectual development. Without a good nights sleep it is impossible to reach ones mental potential. The information that is acquired while we are awake our brain consolidates and stores this information while we are asleep. Thus, it could be said that we are learning while sleeping.
Using his knowledge of neural networks, ingenuous experiments on neuronal firing, and sophisticated mathematical analysis of spatiotemporal firing patterns, Buzsáki explains how the two components of sleep, REM and non-REM sleep, work together to consolidate memories.
"The hippocampus acts as the central switchboard for the brain that can easily store short-term memory patterns. However, these patterns have to be encoded in the neocortex to provide space for coding new short-term memories. This complex process of rebuilding the neural network of the brain takes place during sleep. Unlike rest or conservation of energy, this highest feat of evolutionary neural mathematics, requires the brain to be shut off entirely from environmental input! This automatic rewiring is the main reason for which we sleep and why there is no conscious processing involved! During sleep, the brain works as hard as during SAT or GRE exams. It rewires its circuits to make sure that all newly gained knowledge is optimally stored for future use."
Christina Gutierrez at Notre Dame has an excellent article titled "Sleep on it: Implementing a Relaxation Program Into the College Curriculum." In this article she gives the rational and how to develop a college course to make students aware of the importance of sleep being required for learning. However, I am not sure a curriculum committee would give credit for a course in how to sleep. http://www.nd.edu/~frswrite/mcpartlin/2003/gutierrez.shtml
If has been found that sleep improves the ability to learn a language. More information can be found at http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/031023/sleep.shtml
A Texas learning center has excellent information to give students why sleep is required to learn and gives suggestions on how to sleep. http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/sleep/sleep.html
Additional information on how sleep improves memory can be found at the following websites: