Update on sleep research and learning: advice for teens – and the rest of us

The New York Times published  Want to Ace That Test?  Get the Right Kind of Sleepon 10-16-14.  The article provides an update about the current research on sleep and learning, with a focus on what it means for teens but the benefits of this information certainly are not limited to teens.  The author, who is one of the paper’s science reporters, summarizes the current thinking about sleep: “Sleep is learning, of a very specific kind. Scientists now argue that a primary purpose of sleep is learning consolidation, separating the single from the noise and flagging what is most valuable.” And, “there is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep in a different kinds of learning and by teaching “sleep study skills,” we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that there gaming the system.”

“Sleep is learning, of a very specific kind. Scientists now argue that a primary purpose of sleep is learning consolidation, separating the single from the noise and flagging what is most valuable.” And, “there is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep in a different kinds of learning and by teaching “sleep study skills,” we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that there gaming the system.”

The author goes on to describe how each of the different stages of sleep has been found to handle a different type of learning. He reports, “studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep-the knocked-out-cold variety-this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures figures and new words.” On the other hand, the second half of sleep focuses more on learning that, “consolidates motor memory, the stuff that aspiring musicians and athletes need.”

He goes on to provide some general guidance that may be helpful with teens, and for the rest of us, as well. If you want to prepare for a written test, you should go to bed early, make sure that you maximize your early sleep, and get up early and do some more studying before the test. On the other hand, if you want to do your best for something using motor skills, such as a musical recital or an athletic event, the research tells us that we should do the opposite, and stay up later preparing for the event and sleep until your normal wake-up time in the morning.

In summary: “you’re going to burn the candle, it’s good to know which end to burn it on..” He goes on to recommend that parents who are having wrangles with teens about sleep use this information to potentially motivate their teen to change their sleep patterns, at least at times, to prepare for many of the challenges of teen life. This may be wishful thinking for many teens, but this information also may be applicable for adults who want to stack the deck in their favor for the next day’s challenges.

 

 

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