Your body is at rest when you have a good sleep, tucked under the covers and curled up like a baby, but your brain is at work vigorously processing the events that happened during the course of the day. It even tries to get answers to unsolved problems and the best way to remember a newly learnt concept or anything new is to sleep on it. New memories often relate themselves with older ones and you might even get a solution to your unsolved problems or come up with creative ideas while you sleep.
Neural Connections that Connect Learning Processes
Memories are results of a learning experience or practical scenarios. Sleep before learning helps the brain to form memories while sleeping after learning something new helps to digest the new information and store it in the brain, almost lifelong. Every day is an opportunity to learn new things and a heap of memories is acquired but most of them are forgotten during the course of day. Memories initially are in a raw and fragile form. Sleep decides over the important memories that should be retained and discards the rest. Some memories are further strengthened and etched forever in our brains.
Snoozing puts the brain through different phases of sleep- light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which triggers dreams-which keep recurring every 90 minutes. The two stages apart from the REM stage prepare the brain to accept new information the next day and sleepless nights decreases this ability by 40%. The hippocampus (the part of brain responsible for making new memories) is let down when a person lacks enough sleep and memories don’t get stored intact as the brain is not given time to process them before adding new ones! The REM stage provides solutions to many unanswered questions through the day-it links together many different memories in the most unexpected ways and helps in problem solving too. Many emotional conflicts or mental stresses during the day can be calmed or reduced with a good night’s sleep.
If your friend comes back and hugs you in the morning after a neck-breaking fight the previous day, don’t be surprised. When a student comes up with a solid answer to your question the next day but did not have much clue on it at the time of questioning, don’t be shocked. All these are dainty works of your REM stage.
Research shows that taking a short nap soon after learning a new concept helps the brain to store the concept intact rather than processing it without any nap. A German study has proved that even a 6-minute nap (micro nap) helps people recollect previously-learnt stuff in a better way. Naps are not long enough for the REM phase of sleep to occur and when individuals take a nap long enough for the REM phase, the learning outcomes are even more better.
Sleep quality decreases as we age. The deep-memory strengthening stages of sleep start to decline in our late 30s. Even a study found that adults above 60 years of age had lost their sleep quality up to 70% or more compared to young adults (18-25 years). Our grandparents and parents often don’t remember misplacing their reading glasses, accuse their children of not sharing many details (although kids would have told them several times) and get irritated as they are forced to search for several things. Decline in sleep quality reduces the number of deep sleep hours and this is a major cause for such impaired memory in older adults. Research is happening in full swing on finding ways out to enhance deep stages of sleep in older adults. More than searching for treatment options to cure memory impairment, trying to find ways to help the person sleep can solve many problems.
Youngsters too must sleep properly every day. Night outs before examinations or tests are never going to serve the purpose. A good night’s sleep before the day of examination is as important as a good night’s sleep before the day of study. Cut down on any of these sleeping hours and you can see the consequences of such folly measures for yourself.
‘Do you follow what your heart says or what your mind says?’ is quite commonly asked which also makes us think if heart and brain are interrelated. Whatever is good for the heart is good for the brain. Exercise is good for the heart and for the brain. It can even prevent or minimize risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s in individuals. Read more on this at www.firsteatright.com. Although brain takes up only 1-2% of body weight, it needs 20% of the cardiac output making it the most oxygen-demanding part of the body. A healthy cardiovascular system indicates a healthy brain.
Napping is not the key to success, but it definitely helps to boost your memory and become adept at solving problems. Sleeping well at night helps to promote good health and both together hopefully motivates anyone to sleep well.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.