The Surprising Relationship Between Sleep and Learning

Before you start your next Udemy course, it’s best you get a good nights rest. Here is why:

Meet Ed. He prides off thinking he only needs five hours of sleep a night. He claims to get more done after everyone else is asleep. What he doesn’t realize is that in the first few waking hours of the day Ed’s cognitive function already starts to dissipate. He hunkers down for a few more hours, grabs three more cups of coffee and gets back to work. In this stage his mind and body start to shut down, reserving energy for core body functions, not including learning or remembering. Ed, you may not have known, was a poor student. He got C’s at best in all his courses. Two more hours of sleep a night would have easily brought his grades up one to two levels. Today Ed cleans luxury cars for a living, alienated from the dream of ever being able to drive one, let alone own one in his life. Ed, go to bed!

That was an extreme example, but it’s a fact, lack of sleep does not do your body good. And worse, it has a reverse effect on your brain and makes cognitive functions much more difficult. Both your body and mind need sleep to rest and recuperate from the day. It needs the time to slow down, digest, repair and re-establish energy for the following day.

When it comes to learning, sleep deprivation impairs spatial learning including memory and simple tasks like how to get to a specific destination. It also impairs:
1. Cognitive function
2. Attention Span
3. Reaction time
4. General health
5. Immune system
6. Increases hallucinations

You see, learning itself helps to rejuvenate the brain and lack of sleep deprives the brain of this function. Historically, scientists believed that the main function of sleep was directly related to learning and memory.  Today that notion still holds true.

“Sleep is a fascinating field. Every single organ in the body is affected by sleep and can be improved by sleep.” – Jaime Boero, M.D., Ph.D.

Sleep directly affects your learning. The more you sleep (7.5 hours or more), the more ‘cognitively awake’ you are and the better you can perform. By losing sleep, you learn less, make worse decisions, accomplish less, are more rude and angry, eat poorly, are more prone to major errors and completely undermine your intellectual power.

A detailed 2002 study done by the Harvard Medical School demonstrated the effects of lack of sleep on some participants. They concluded that a good night sleep results in a 20% increase in motor speed without loss of accuracy, while in the same period of time during wake provides no benefit. Since sleep helps keep new brain cells alive in the hippocampus, a deficiency would ultimately impact overall cognition and eliminate the potential benefit of new learning, therefore decreasing the ability to learn and retain information. And since we are all lifelong learners, the more information we can retain, the larger our capacity to learn and do. [Going from a beginner Python developer to intermediate and eventually an expert, can happen more efficiently if you take care of yourself and get some rest.]

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), one of the deepest parts of sleep you experience typically during the last two hours of sleep enhances emotional memory and learning retention. For those who cut their nights rest shy by about 2-3 hours lose out on REM sleep and ultimately their chance to learn and remember throughout the day.

So before you go pressing play on your Udemy course, or before attending a seminar , conference or an investors meeting, make sure you clock your sleep hours. You need it for body and mind!