It’s interesting to me that we rarely talk about sleep as is related to learning other than to notice when a student is cranky and indicates they didn’t get enough, or a parent asks how to get their child down at night, or a student falls asleep while working. What I hadn’t known until recently is just how essential it is to learning!
Why is Sleep Important to Learning?
Sleep is an essential element for learning as it rests the mind to attend to learning during non-sleeping hours and consolidates this learning transferring memories to long-term storage when you’re not conscious of it happening.
These two components, attention and memory, form the two addends that equate to learning! The mind is on contemplative state during waking hours and shifts to taking newly acquired experiences and connecting them to previous learned information, transferring this new learning into long term memory during sleep.
My uncle is a scientist and he talks about how he and his team would muddle over a complex problem day in and day out without coming upon a solution when all of a sudden he’d wake up one morning and produce an answer he worked out unconsciously overnight!
I had my own experience with this not too long ago. Before I acquired a password keeper, I had far too many passwords to remember. One of these important passwords allowed me access to a bank of work I created and was accessed through a dead email. Unfortunately, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the password and my former employer wouldn’t reissue my dead email so I could retrieve my work, so I decided to not bother and to let it all go. Seven months later, I woke up at 4am remembering the lost password! It worked!
How Much Do You Sleep?
Sleep is as essential to your well-being as much as food and water, yet we usually don’t focus on it as a necessary component of the learning environment until we meet a child that is deficient in sleep. How much a human needs is unique, although there are some simple guidelines for families and educators from The National Sleep Foundation:
Researchers have discovered that napping midday has a significant positive impact on your memory consolidation. If a little “cat nap” of just 10-15 minutes can give you a temporary memory boost and increase your alertness, imagine what a 90 minute nap can do!? The average time for a nap tends to be around the 60 minute mark and has long-lasting memory improvement without the dreaded grogginess that shorter naps cause. The research shows a 90 minute nap has all the benefits of a full sleep cycle including “improved emotional, procedural, and declarative memory and increased creativity, with minimal grogginess.” (Lahl, 2008)
Can We Learn During Our Sleep Cycle?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do some of the heavy lifting of learning while we sleep? Researchers have been wondering the same thing! They have tried to tap into the power of our unconscious mind and have acquired some success in influencing learning positively. This kind of learning is called sleep reactivation as it utilizes triggers used during the initial learning and amplified the use of memory consolidation. For instance, some learners were asked to memorize a series of words with a certain rhythm, then the rhythm was played back to them while they slept. The control group that received the reactivation remembered much better than the group that didn’t!
Quick Tips for Using Sleep as a Learning Strategy
The primary strategy we can offer you here is to offer a quiet, darkened space with a cozy spot for a much needed cat nap, along with an attitude shift that for some students, a short nap may be exactly what is needed for their learning. Honoring each child’s needs means having frank conversations with caregivers about the importance and timing of sleep, and working with your students to help them realize how important it is to meeting their goals. Tapping into their self-efficacy is a great way to prompt their cooperation!
Now that we know our ABCs, what research-based strategies are you planning to implement today?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.