Sleep Makes You Smart! 

Jagdeep Bijwadia 12/18/2020

While many now recognize sleep to be a key component of our overall health, what might be less obvious is how healthy sleep can make us smarter.

 

Sleep is involved in all three aspects of learning. Acquisition and recall suffer in the most recognizable way. It is simply more difficult to concentrate when we are sleep deprived. Inadequate sleep affects our ability to focus on and gather new information and even our ability to remember those things we have already learned.

Learning involves three separate processes: acquisition, recall, and consolidation. In other words, we collect information, commit it to memory, and then solidify the learning so that it becomes part of our skill set.

The less obvious, but possibly more profound impact of sleep loss on learning, is the effect that many researchers think it has on memory consolidation. Several studies have shown that when we are sleep deprived, we are less likely to consolidate recently formed memories. You may have heard stories about discoveries or theories that emerged when the scientist awakes after a night's sleep or the saying "sleep on it," when faced with a complex problem. The fact is that when we sleep, our brains sort through an incredible amount of information gathered during our waking hours. Through a complex process, our brain eliminates those bits of information that are not important while strengthening and consolidating the information that is useful. Studies have now demonstrated how new connections can actually be seen to form at a microscopic level between various neurons during sleep.

If you are a student, remember this as an important lesson before an exam: Instead of staying up late into the night cramming for that big test, just go to bed! Science, in fact, points to a restful night’s sleep before exam day as the best strategy for your brain to do its thing and consolidate all the learning you have put so much effort into. Sleep actually does make you smarter.

Dr. Bijwadia is the founder and CEO of SleepMedRx and also serves as Chief Medical Officer of Whole You and Beddr . He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep Medicine. Prior to starting his own practice in Minnesota he served as Attending Physician at HealthPartners Medical Group (HPMG), where he was the Department Head and Director of the Sleep Medicine Center. He currently holds a faculty position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the University of Minnesota where he served as Director of the Sleep Program until 2012. He completed the executive MBA program at the University of Saint Thomas in Minneapolis. He has been named top doc by the Minneapolis magazine as well as US News and World Report. Past President of the Minnesota Sleep Society he is active in promoting sleep health in Minnesota.

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