Sleep well. Learn Well.

We have discussed this issue a couple of times during the semester. But since finals are approaching, I though important to refresh our memories.

Sleep deprivation is a major problem among college students. A 2001 study revealed that 11% of college students have good sleep quality while 73% have sleep problems. Sleep deprivation in students has been linked to lower GPAs because sleep affects concentration, memory and the ability to learn. Research have shown that good sleeping habits have a positive impact on your cognitive skills and your health.

Writing for Time Magazine Alice Parks explains the positive impact of sleep:

It’s nature’s panacea, more powerful than any drug in its ability to restore and rejuvenate the human brain and body. Getting the recommended seven to eight hours each night can improve concentration, sharpen planning and memory skills and maintain the fat-burning systems that regulate our weight. If every one of us slept as much as we’re supposed to, we’d all be lighter, less prone to developing Type 2 diabetes and most likely better equipped to battle depression and anxiety. We might even lower our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and cancer.

But how many hours is a good night sleep? It depends. Guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for young adults (ages between 18-25), a little less if you are older. Here’s a graphic with the full recommendations by different age groups:

Sleep and memory

Sleep also helps the brain consolidate memories. According to Andrew Bodson, MD, in this article from Harvard Health Blog:

When you learn new information during the day, it is temporarily stored in the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped part of your brain behind your eyes. The hippocampus has a limited storage capacity. If you exceed it, you may have difficulty adding new information — or you may actually overwrite an old memory with a newer one. Fortunately, that doesn’t usually happen. Each night while you sleep, the connections between neurons (called synapses) shrink to reduce or eliminate the memories you don’t need — such as what you ate for breakfast last week and the clothes you wore yesterday. This selective pruning of synapses during the night prepares you to form new memories the next day. Sleep also helps us consolidate the memories we want to preserve, transferring them from transiently accessible memories to those that can be recalled years later. Memories for facts and skills both show greater retention over a 12-hour period that includes sleep versus a 12-hour period while awake. Much of this consolidation occurs during stage 2 sleep, a light sleep phase that occurs most in the hours prior to awakening. This means that if you get up early without a full night’s rest, you may be impairing your ability to hold onto your memories.

So, the next time you decide to pull an all-nighter to prepare for a test or write a paper be aware that it could do more harm than good.

The following TED Ed video provides a great explanation of the benefits of a good night’s sleep and the effects of sleep on your ability to remember:

Shai Marcu’s Ted Talk on the benefits of a good night sleep