When I was a student, my teachers told me to “go and get a good night’s rest” on the eve of my exams. My swimming coach said the same thing the day before the swimming finals.

All I know in those days is that I do feel better and perform better when I had a good night’s sleep.

So, can you sleep better, learn faster, and perform more effectively?

Yes, you can. In this blog post, I will show you how sleep works wonders for your brain and learning. You will learn how to sleep better and get the most out of your sleep for optimal performance.

How to sleep better and learn faster

Sleep is not just something you do when you are tired or bored. Sleep is a vital process that affects every aspect of your brain function and learning. When you sleep, your brain is busy processing the information you learned during the day, strengthening your memory, and finding new connections and insights. When you wake up, you are ready to learn more, remember better, and solve problems faster.

Learning is the act of acquiring new knowledge and skills through experience or instruction. To learn faster or more effectively, you need to be able to pay attention, understand the information, and store it in your memory. Sleep helps you with all these aspects of learning in different ways.

Sleep makes your memory stronger

One of the main functions of sleep is to make your memory stronger. This happens mainly during the deep stages of sleep (stages 2 and 3) when your brain moves the information from your short-term memory in the hippocampus (a part of your brain that helps you learn) to your long-term memory in the cortex (a part of your brain that helps you think).

Making your memory stronger is essential for learning new information because it allows you to keep what you learned and combine it with what you already know. For example, when you are learning a new language, sleeping after your language class can help you remember the words and rules better than staying awake.

Sleep makes your attention sharper

Another way that sleep helps you learn is by making your attention sharper. Lack of sleep can make your attention duller, slower, and more easily distracted, making it harder to learn new things. This is because lack of sleep lowers the activity of the prefrontal cortex (a part of your brain that helps you focus, plan, and control impulses).

For instance, if you are trying to learn a new skill, such as playing a musical instrument or driving a car, staying up all night can make you more likely to make mistakes and accidents than getting enough sleep. Moreover, lack of sleep can also affect your mood, motivation, judgment, and perception of events, which can interfere with your learning process. In other words, if you sleep better, your attention will be sharper.

How sleep helps you remember

Memory is the act of storing and retrieving information that you have learned or experienced. Memory can be divided into two types:

  1. Declarative memory is about facts and events that you can consciously remember such as names, dates, or facts.
  2. Procedural memory is about skills and habits that you can perform automatically such as riding a bike or playing a song.

Sleep helps both types of memory in different ways.

Sleep boosts your declarative memory

Sleep makes your memory stronger, which is especially important for declarative memory. According to research, sleeping after learning new facts or events can improve your memory recall by between 20 and 40 percent. This is because during sleep, your brain reviews and reorganizes the memories that were formed during the time you are awake.

For example, if you are studying for an exam or preparing for a presentation, sleeping after reviewing the material can help you remember it better than cramming all night. Sleeping also helps you recall information more accurately and flexibly, which means that you can use it in different situations and contexts.

Sleep boosts your procedural memory

Sleep also boosts your procedural memory by helping you learn motor skills. Motor skills are movements or actions that require coordination and precision such as playing a sport or an instrument. Research shows that sleeping after practicing a new motor skill can improve your performance by up to 20 percent. This is because, during sleep, your brain strengthens the motor commands that were learned during the time you are awake.

For example, if you are learning to play a new song on the piano, taking a nap after practicing can help you play it faster and smoother than remaining awake. Sleeping also helps you transfer the skill to other variations or conditions, which means that you can adapt it to different songs or musical instruments.

How sleep helps you solve problems

Problem-solving is the act of finding a solution to a given problem or challenge. It involves using logic, creativity, and knowledge to find the best possible solution. Sleep helps you solve problems in different ways.

Sleep helps you find connections

Sleep can help you solve problems by helping you find connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. This can lead to novel and innovative solutions.

For example, if you are trying to come up with a catchy slogan for a product, sleeping after brainstorming can help you find more associations in your memory that can inspire you to create a better slogan. Sleeping can also help you avoid fixation, which is a tendency to stick to one idea or approach and ignore other possibilities.

Sleep helps you be more creative

Another way that sleep helps you solve problems is by helping you be more creative. Creativity is a type of problem-solving that requires divergent thinking by generating many possible solutions, and convergent thinking by selecting the best solution. Creativity is especially useful when it comes to complex and ill-defined problems that have no clear or obvious answer.

Research shows that sleep, especially REM sleep (the stage of sleep when we dream), can improve your creativity by stimulating the brain regions involved in associative thinking and emotional processing. REM sleep can also help you integrate new information with existing knowledge, which can result in new insights and discoveries.

For example, if you are trying to solve a math puzzle or a riddle, sleeping after learning the rules or clues can help you find a more creative and elegant solution than staying awake. Sleeping can also help you overcome mental blocks that prevent you from reaching a solution.

Young woman sleeping
Sleep better and you’ll learn faster.

Tips to sleep better

As you can see, sleep is not only important for your physical health but also for your mental performance and cognitive abilities. Getting enough quality sleep can help you learn better, remember more, and solve problems more effectively. You can also improve your mood, motivation, judgment, and creativity.

To sleep better and get the most out of your sleep for optimal performance, follow these tips:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. Doing this will help your body clock adjust to a consistent rhythm and make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other stimulants before bedtime if you want to sleep better. These substances can interfere with your sleep quality and duration by keeping you awake or disrupting your sleep cycles. Avoid consuming them at least four hours before bedtime.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable and relaxing. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. You can use curtains, blinds, earplugs, fans, air conditioners, or other devices to block out any noise or light that might disturb your sleep. You can also use aromatherapy, meditation, music, or other relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body before bed.
  • Avoid using electronic devices before bed. The blue light emitted by smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, and other devices can suppress the production of melatonin (a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle) and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Avoid using these devices at least an hour before bed. If you need to use them for work or study purposes, use a blue light filter or turn down the brightness.
  • Exercise regularly but not too close to bedtime. Physical activity can improve your mood, health, and sleep quality by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. However, if you exercise too close to bedtime, you can have the opposite effect of stimulating your body and making it harder for you to relax. Aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week, but avoid doing it within three hours of bedtime.
  • Do not take naps during the day. While napping can be beneficial for learning and memory consolidation, it can also interfere with your nighttime sleep quality and quantity if it is done too much or too late in the day. Limit your naps to 20 minutes or less, and avoid napping after 3:00 PM if you want to sleep better at night.

How much sleep do you need?

The answer depends on your age, lifestyle, and individual needs. A general guideline is that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers need 8 to 10 hours, and children need 9 to 11 hours. Of course, these are averages, and some people may need more or less sleep than others.

The best way to find out how much sleep you need is to listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel and function during the day.

Conclusion

Sleep is not a luxury but a necessity for your brain power and learning. By getting enough quality sleep every night, you can boost your learning ability, memory retention, recall, and problem-solving skills. You can also improve your mood, motivation, judgment, and creativity.

If you want to sleep better for optimal performance, follow the tips above. Enjoy the amazing power of sleep and use it to get ahead in your work performance.


References

  • Cappello, K. “The Impact of Sleep on Learning and Memory.” Chronobiology and Sleep Institute, Dec 21, 2020.
  • Dement WC. The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep. Dell, 2000.
  • Fattinger, S., de Beukelaar, T., Ruddy, K. et al. “Deep Sleep Maintains Learning Efficiency of the Human Brain.” Nature Communications, vol. 8, no. 15405, 2017.
  • Leschziner, G. The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, and the Secret World of Sleep. St. Martin’s Press, 2019.
  • Panda, S. The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy, and Transform Your Health from Morning to Midnight. Rodale Books, 2018.
  • Stevenson, S. Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. Rodale Books, 2016.
  • Walker, M. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York: Scribner, 2018.