Sleep More, Learn More

by Florence Cardinal Patient Expert

A study conducted by scientists in Switzerland revealed that a good night's sleep strengthened the nerve cells that control learning and memory. But --- can you actually learn while you're sleeping? If you listen to a CD on the history of Greece while in deep slumber, will the information be stored in your brain cells, ready for that big test tomorrow?

A web search brought up dozens of sites claiming you can learn while you sleep. A new language is a popular subject for sleep learning, but you can, according to some of the sites, learn any topic. It's supposed to be a great tool for preparing for exams.

But that's not all. You can, so the proponents claim, learn faster and increase your memory. You can even break bad habits, like smoking, or lose weight or gain confidence or...well, the list seems endless.

This would be so wonderful - if it were only true. Unfortunately, it isn't. Listening to Spanish language tapes or tapes encouraging you to stop smoking do only one thing. They disturb your rest and sometimes prevent your dropping off into the deep sleep so important for restoring your mind and body.

Sleep, however, does help us learn or remember important facts. If someone is cramming for an exam, reading the material just before falling asleep will allow the brain the time it needs to store the information so it will be there when it's needed.

Do you need to memorize a poem for language class or a speech for tomorrow's presentation? Read it through several times before falling asleep. Try to commit it to memory. Then, off to bed and to sleep and let the brain do the rest. You'll be surprised at how much you retain.

Teachers are discovering that the reason for poor academic results in schools may be because early morning classes are robbing them of much needed sleep, the sleep that helps them learn. In some cases students have to get up as early as 5 a.m. to attend an early class, and are arriving at school groggy and sleep deprived. Not only did they fall asleep in class, but also their memories seemed sort-circuited.

Some of the schools returned to the later opening, and discovered that students were more alert, no longer fell asleep with their heads on the desk, but also did better academically. Grades improved and students were happier, healthier and more willing to learn.

New study rule: Less cramming and more sleep.

Florence Cardinal
Meet Our Writer
Florence Cardinal

Florence wrote for HealthCentral as patient expert for Sleep Disorders.