The dream strengthens what has been learned

25.10.2020

Sleeping is a must. If we want to perform physically and mentally the next day, it is necessary that we have enjoyed a good sleep the night before. Only by having good sleep hygiene can we wake up rested and full of energy.

But in addition to recharging us with sleep, it can be our best ally to consolidate the learning we have done the day before. Getting a good night's sleep can be the factor that guarantees our academic success.

Why does sleep help us learn? Apparently, when we sleep we do nothing but rest, but in reality, our brain continues to work and in a way that is very beneficial to us. Let's find out below.

How does sleeping contribute to learning?

No one doubts that sleep is a basic life function. Sleeping our 8 hours recharges our batteries, giving us all that energy that we have lost throughout the day.

Thanks to the fact that we disconnect at night, our body carries out a series of processes that make our body recover everything that was spent the previous day. A good sleep makes us wake up rested, making us physically and mentally prepared for whatever has in store for us the day we start.

Many people see the act of sleeping as synonymous with the utmost physical and mental inactivity . However, even if consciousness turns off during sleep our brain continues to work and it is thanks to this brain work that while we sleep this helps us learn better. In addition to making us wake up the next day with greater concentration and clearer, sleeping makes our brain work actively consolidating the learning that has been done during the previous day.

When we sleep, neural connections are formed, which allows us to explain why knowledge is better established while we are sleeping, as long as that sleep is of good quality. New dendritic spines are being created, especially in the non-REM, short-wave sleep phase, which is a deep sleep that occurs during the first hours of the night and in which dreams are not generated.

Since sleep helps to better assimilate the knowledge learned, acquiring a good sleep pattern should be key for students of any educational level , especially in high school, pre-university and university, since it is the students of these three levels who they are more likely to stay up late before an exam.

It should be essential for these students to avoid late-night study sessions , especially because of how they affect the quantity and quality of sleep later, if they ever do sleep.

The importance of sleeping well to internalize knowledge

Although it is no secret that a good night's sleep positively influences our cognitive ability, many students do not appreciate the importance of good sleep hygiene and its relationship to performing better in the face of academic demands. Not only do they not get enough sleep, but they do things that make it even more difficult to fall asleep, such as abusing screens, drinking large amounts of caffeine and studying late in the day.

As we have mentioned, sleep not only provides us with the physical and mental rest that we need after a full day consuming our resources. In addition to this, sleeping allows us to establish well the knowledge that we have been learning throughout the day. Sleeping well helps us learn what we have seen during the previous day. Despite this, there are many students who trust that depriving themselves of a night's sleep and doing a great "brooding" will help them in the exam the next day. Big mistake.

Even if we stop paying attention to something we are learning, the brain does not stop working on it, processing it . Our brain performs various activities to consolidate this new knowledge and make it stay in our long-term memory. While it is true that this process begins from the moment we encode the information, that is, from the moment we have received and understood it, it is during sleep when the consolidation process occurs most efficiently.

This consolidation process involves the neuronal reactivation of representations that were coded during wakefulness, that is, when we sleep we activate the same parts of the brain that were activated when we were learning something, either in class or reviewing the syllabus. Thus, while we sleep it is as if we were reviewing what we had seen hours before, only this time we were doing it unconsciously.

In addition to this unconscious review, sleep contributes to our learning by connecting recent ideas with others more or less distant but that have some kind of relationship . That is to say, thanks to the dream we are more likely to have "revelations" the next day, associating what we are learning now with syllabi of other subjects and courses or some personal experience that can be related. In short, sleeping improves learning and also encourages creativity.

Factors that impair sleep

There are two factors that negatively affect the quality and quantity of students' sleep and that are directly related to their ability to learn . The first has to do with the abuse of new technologies, especially video games and screens, while the second has to do with the consumption of caffeine, the star substance of study sessions and the only one to which students minors have legal access.

Electronics devices

Video games are the most used entertainment in childhood and adolescence and are also the ones that have been most demonized by supposed experts. Many are the nonsense that have been said about this form of leisure, among them the one that makes young people violent, impulsive, less intelligent and other fallacies.

All this is false, however, it should be noted that its use in the hours before going to sleep can affect sleep since many video games do is increase alertness and stimulate emotionally . Video games can keep us awake and it will be difficult for us to fall asleep.

Another technological factor that negatively affects the consolidation of sleep is the use of screens in general, especially the use of mobile phones. The abuse of screens a few hours before going to sleep has been associated with greater difficulty falling asleep because, supposedly, if bright light is received from these devices at night, the nocturnal secretion of melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycles. The body believes that it is daytime, circadian cycles are altered, making it difficult for us to sleep at night and worsening the quality of our sleep.

Caffeine drinks

Caffeine also affects the consolidation of learning during sleep. It is common culture that drinks such as coffee, tea or anything that contains caffeine wake us up and make it difficult for us to fall asleep, especially if we drink it in the evening, but also, and contrary to what many believe, it has negative repercussions on our cognitive abilities.

Caffeinated beverages such as cola, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate are products that minors have easy access to. It has been seen that its prolonged consumption causes children to sleep an average of 15 minutes less each night , which considerably affects their rest and performance the next day.

But in addition to this, the habitual consumption of these substances leads to a lower cognitive performance, which may even seem counterintuitive considering that the reason for their consumption is usually to "wake up".

If caffeine is consumed in a timely manner, it can increase our alertness and attention. However, if its consumption is habitual, what happens is that it reduces cognitive function. It is not that we become less intelligent to more drunk coffees, but it does cost us more to concentrate and pay attention .

In fact, there comes a time when in order to have the same concentration that we had before we became addicted, we need to increase the dose of caffeine, since we have generated tolerance and dependence.

It is for this reason that no caffeine drink should under any circumstances be given to a child because, even if it is not a drug such as cannabis, alcohol or tobacco, caffeine alters the brain, generates dependence and makes it possible to focus better need to drink more and more. In addition, the vast majority of caffeine drinks that we find in the market have huge amounts of sugar, another reason why this type of soft drink should not be given to the little ones.

In short, caffeine affects academic performance in two ways. One, which is the best known, is that it alters sleep both qualitatively and quantitatively, depriving us of a process that helps to consolidate the knowledge acquired in class. The other is that the more consumption, the more dependency is generated, and the more it is required to drink to have normal attention and concentration.

recommendations

Given all the above, it is extremely counterproductive for our learning to stay up all night, studying the day before the exam, drinking huge amounts of coffee and staying awake while looking at the notes on the computer screen.

We will be tired but awake, we will not give our brain an opportunity to establish connections between the ideas learned and our learnings will be very unstructured and will last very little in our memory.

It is recommended that the study session is not done immediately before going to sleep, even if you intend to sleep at a recommended time (10-23.30pm) and even if the study is well dosed. If you want to study a little before going to sleep, it is best to review your notes, not make summaries, diagrams or any cognitively demanding activity because it will keep you awake and that will influence the consolidation of sleep.

Although many people argue that studying at night is better for them, the truth is that it is counterproductive. The arrival of the night is the arrival of the end of the day and this shows because we are very tired. We have been expending energy throughout the day and the body notices it, even if we do not want to recognize it. We have been awake for almost 16 hours! Starting to study at night the only thing that will do is delay our sleep, even though we will be tired and that will mean that we do not acquire knowledge.

This is why the best thing to do is to leave the study session for the early afternoon , between 4pm and 5pm. Many studies suggest that starting the study at that time, when several hours have passed since we have eaten and there is still light, it is perfect to be able to study concentrates. You can try first thing in the morning, but it is not usually recommended either because although we have started the day and, therefore, we are not tired, we are still under the influence of sleep.

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