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The Connection Between Sleeping and Learning

In many cases, people who do not sleep well tend to struggle with learning. After all, a good night's sleep is the key to success as far as happiness and productivity are concerned. To have a good night's sleep is the perfect way to avoid negativity the next day. A new study has found, though, that there are specific areas of the brain that are affected learning new skills indicates how poor sleep quality really affects the body and mind.

What Does Poor Sleep Impede?

It is important to note that poor sleep causes several problems for people the next day when they wake from a disturbed rest. First and foremost, cognitive function is impaired. In most cases, people are not able to think clearly or make quality decisions. Then, their attention span is weakened, which means they are less likely to attune themselves with details. These two occurrences alone can lead to mistakes and dangerous situations being caused. Furthermore, people's reaction times are lowered. Therefore, they are not likely to be able to respond properly to dangerous situations. Their general health will eventually have a toll taken on it, which then leads to a poor immune system. Hence, people are more likely to become ill when they do not sleep well routinely.

For these reasons, it is important that the brain has the proper chance to rejuvenate itself each night. The only way to do this is to find a way to prevent sleep from being disturbed. The brain cannot properly function with daily tasks, let alone learning new material, when it does not have the chance to sleep well each night.

About the Study

This study took place at the University of Zurich, and it was aided by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. This Swiss study had the goal of examining the way the disruption of a deep sleep phase affects the brain's ability to learn new things. This study was published in Nature Communications. It explores how the brain responds to stimuli from a given environment and how the motor cortex accesses and processes that information judging by how it is affected by stages of deep sleep. The deep slave phase, also known as slow-wave sleep, is an essential part of memory formation and to help restore the brain to full function the next day after much productivity takes place.

How to Manipulate the Motor Cortex During Slow-Wave Sleep

Six women and seven men participated in this study. They were asked to perform a set of tasks during the day following uninterrupted sleep to set up a control group. They were asked to repeat these tasks on the next day after having their deep sleep cycle disturbed to gather experimental data to compare against the control data. The tasks were rather simple, and they involved learning different sets of new finger movements. During the study, researchers were able to determine the area of the brain that is affected by learning these new motor skills. The participant's brain activity was also monitored while they were asleep. During the first session, the participants were able to sleep without a disturbance. The second night, though, the researchers would manipulate the sleep cycle's quality without the participant's realizing such was going on.

How is this Study Performed for Accurate Results?

Participants in the study were actually evaluated for a good night's sleep and then for a poor night's sleep one week apart from one another. The first day of the first week, they were given a series of tasks in two different sessions. One session took place first thing in the morning, and the second session took place in the evening, after the tasks of a normal day are taken care of. Then, the participants were allowed to sleep a normal night's rest. As mentioned previously, their brains were monitored during this night. Parts of the brain responsible for processing the learning of new abilities and material were observed as being present in all of the participants. They were then given a week to separate the next phase of the study.

On the first day of week two, the participants repeated tasks similar to what they did on the first day of the first week. They were given the tasks to complete in two sessions, which once more took place one in the morning and one in the evening. Then, the participants were given the chance to sleep and be monitored for brain activity once more. During this night's sleep, the participants experienced a few disturbances during their sleep cycle, especially during slow-wave sleep. Music or noises were played to cause the disturbances. The participants were then told to repeat a set of tasks from the previous morning once more.

What Blocks the Brain's Ability to Learn?

As expected, the participants' ability to learn was at its highest in the morning. This ability to learn spiked once more the next morning after the participants had a good night's sleep. However, the participants worked at their slowest, akin to how they would work in the evenings, on the morning after a disturbed night's sleep. According to the research completed, neurons do not fire their synapse in a do not rest phase, which blocks restorative sleep. This situation happens because the excited region of the brain does not have the chance to process memories and restore the brain back to a normal state that is not saturated with information from the previous day's learning experiences.

How is this Saturation and Lack of Restoration Handled?

In reality, the only way to achieve proper learning from one day to the next is to gain a proper night's sleep every night. This process allows the brain to clear itself from the previous day. Therefore, people are more likely to remember things they learn from one day to the other more clearly. Hence, a causal connection between sleep quality and ability to learn has been established.


This study shows that people need to gain a good night's sleep each night. Finding a way to avoid disturbances is essential for the sake of learning, and more importantly, the brain cannot function properly without being given the chance to rejuvenate each night.

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