When we have trouble doing certain things and people tell us to sleep on it, they don’t mean it literally. But it should be taken literally!
That’s the basis of a TedEd video titled “The benefits of a good night’s sleep,” and it breaks down the science behind why timing out your activities in relation to your sleep can help you get the most out of everything you do.
First things first: sleep isn’t lost time, it’s a crucial function during which your body regulates and balances its vital systems. It’s also heavily connected to your brain, as one-fifth of our body’s circulatory blood is channeled to our brain, and during sleep our brains restructure themselves.
Nineteenth-Century psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus found that we forget 40% of new material in 20 minutes, something referred to as the forgetting curve.
But there is something that can prevent this: memory consolidation, a process where information is moved from your short-term memory to your long-term memory by your hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory).
And a good night’s sleep is critical for memory consolidation.
There are four stages of sleep—with the deepest sleep being slow-wave and rapid eye movement (REM). When people are monitored during these stages, scientists have found that electrical impulses move between the brainstem, hippocampus, thalamus, and cortex, which all serve as relay stations of memory formation.
Different stages of sleep help consolidate different types of memory. During slow-wave sleep, declarative memory—which deals with facts and events, and things like studying—is strengthened through a dialogue between your cortex and hippocampus. And during REM sleep, there’s a consolidation of procedural memory, which helps you perform tasks without conscious awareness, like playing a musical instrument.
Therefore, it’s better to go to sleep about three hours after doing something that requires declarative memory, and one hour after doing something that requires a procedural memory.
There’s no arguing that sleep affects memory—it’s a proven fact. But the power in that fact is how you use the information to time your practicing or studying for maximum output.