Sleep Disorders, Sleep Remedies & Insomnia Relief


Can Lack Of Sleep Disrupt Learning?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has proven through studies that chronic sleep problems affect 40 million Americans every year and an average of 20 million to 30 million individuals will lose sleep on an occasional basis. Compound this with the knowledge that 22 million American citizens work night shifts or swing shifts which causes many disruptions with the body’s normal cycles in terms of sleep considerations. If allowed to worsen, these sleep disorders can evolve into full blown sleep deprivation which can cause problems with a person’s ability to function on the job; their ability to learn, remember and concentrate; their driving skills and personal relationships.

Research has proven that a consistent lack of sleep can affect a person’s cognitive functions including impaired memory, a slower reaction time, an inability to concentrate, a shorter attention span and a reduced ability to learn and process new information. Being too tired to learn can result in a lack of adequate performance at school or work for an individual. The brain has a difficult time when processing new information, when it is deprived of sleep, and research into this has yielded the result that the brain is the organ of the body that requires the greatest amount of sleep. Studies have shown that learning spatial tasks (such as remembering a set of instructions) greatly increases the production of new cells in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus. The brain cells in the hippocampus rely on the benefits of sleep to survive, and indeed thrive. The hippocampus consistently goes through a process called “neurogenesis” whereby it creates new brain cells throughout the life of an individual. When the hippocampus is involved in the learning of a new skill or task, neurogenesis takes place even quicker. It is adequate sleep that aids greatly in this process.

Researchers at Boston’s Harvard Medical School conducted a study in 2000 which added fuel to the argument that getting a good night’s sleep and learning are linked. They found that those who stay up late cramming the night before an exam and then lose sleep actually do worse on their marks than those who got a good night’s sleep the night before. The students’ ability to both learn and retain the information they had learned was thwarted because of missed zzz’s.

It appears that sleep plays a major role in learning and academic performance. This study also showed that trying to quickly catch up on missed sleep doesn’t work as the lack thereof has a negative impact upon performance even three days after the fact. In other words even if the students had had a restful night’s sleep before their exam they would still suffer performance problems because they had tried to catch up on missed sleep from the previous few nights before.

Another study looked at how sequences of patterns can be learned over a period of four days by a group of select students. The group was broken into two with half of the group being allowed a restful night’s sleep on the first night of the study while the second group was not allowed to sleep restfully. The conclusion reached after the study was that there was a connection between losing sleep on night number one and a lack of performance on tests dealing with memory a number of days later.

The results deemed from this study showed that sleep definitely plays a role in how students learn in school and indeed how people learn in general, regardless of the learning material. The process of sleep plays a significant role in encouraging information to remain intact in the brain and to, in other words “stick.”

For those with sleeping problems that disrupt learning they should look closely at what they eat. It is important to eat foods that consist of tryptophan which prompts the production of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is beneficial in helping an individual get to sleep. Tryptophan can be found in egg whites, honey, milk, tuna and turkey. There are certain foods that should be avoided close to bedtime and these include bacon, cheese, ham, tomatoes and sugar because they are composed of an amino acid called tyramine. Tyramine prompts a stimulating effect on the brain and encourages wakefulness and alertness, not sleepiness. Sleep patterns can be easily improved upon by simply altering one’s eating habits for the better.

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