In this episode, we talk about the importance of sleep for learning. We all know we are supposed to get enough sleep. But why exactly do we need to sleep? Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, increases in colds, heart disease, diabetes, and also deficits in cognitive abilities such as attention, decision making, and learning. And both at the high-school and college level, students are not getting the recommend amount of sleep.
We first talk about a study (1) in which students learned and were tested on French-Swahili word pairs, until they were able to remember all the pairs in both directions (i.e., French to Swahili and Swahili to French). Later, students came back and were tested at different time points depending on condition. The sleep group learned at 9pm and took the test at 9am. The no sleep group learned at 9am and took the test at 9pm. Students in the sleep group performed better, despite having the same time delay between learning and testing (12 hours). The theory is that sleeping after learning helps consolidate memories. In addition, re-learning after sleeping can lead to even bigger gains. So, if you’re going to do spaced practice, it’s a good idea to try to sleep in between practice sessions.
(Note: in the podcast we misspoke and mentioned "passages" when were talking about word pairs. Also, we didn't cover all the details of each condition, because doing so would have resulted in cognitive overload. Read this blog post for more information on this study.)
We also describe another study with a similar design but more classroom-relevant materials (2). Students watched an economics lecture either in the morning or the evening, and then took a test after the same length of time. In this study, sleep lead to an improvement not only in retrieval of facts, but also (and especially) in application questions. You can read all about this study in this blog post.
We end the podcast with suggestions for how to get the recommended amount of sleep. See this blog post for those tips.
Here are two additional resources on sleep and self-care:
Sleep resources from Campus Mindworks
Taking Care of Yourself from Campus Mindworks
The Learning Scientists Podcast is funded by The Wellcome Trust.
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(1) Mazza, S., Gerbier, E., Gustin, M., Kasikci, Z., Koenig, O., Toppino, T.C., & Magnin, M. (2016). Relearn faster and retain longer: Along with practice, sleep makes perfect. Psychological Science, 27, 1321-1330.
(2) Scullin, M., McDaniel, M., Howard, D., & Kudelka, C. (2011, June). Sleep and testing promote conceptual learning of classroom materials. Presented at the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, Minneapolis, MN.