July 13, 2003
Learning Blocked In Mice Deprived Of Sleep For 5 Hours

You have to sleep to learn.

PHILADELPHIA -- Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have found new support for the age-old advice to "sleep on it." Mice allowed to sleep after being trained remembered what they had learned far better than those deprived of sleep for several hours afterward.

The researchers also determined that the five hours following learning are crucial for memory consolidation; mice deprived of sleep five to 10 hours after learning a task showed no memory impairment. The results are reported in the May/June issue of the journal Learning & Memory.

"Memory consolidation happens over a period of hours after training for a task, and certain cellular processes have to occur at precise times," said senior author Ted Abel, assistant professor of biology at Penn. "We set out to pinpoint the specific window of time and area of the brain that are sensitive to sleep deprivation after learning."

Abel and his colleagues found that sleep deprivation zero to five hours after learning appeared to impair spatial orientation and recognition of physical surroundings, known as contextual memory. Recollection of specific facts or events, known as cued memory, was not affected. Because the brain's hippocampus is key to contextual memory but not cued memory, the findings provide new evidence that sleep helps regulate neuronal function in the hippocampus

What conclusions can be drawn from this aside from that it is wise to get a full night of sleep? One possibility is that if you can choose when to study then it might help more to study in the evening in the last 5 waking hours before you go to bed. Best to have freshly learned information in your mind before going to sleep.

One problem with this advice is that schools typically teach classes during the day. If you really want to get radical in your approach to learning one possibility to consider is to wake up and go to bed much earlier. One could learn during the day and then immediately go to sleep for the evening hours. Then wake up in the early hours of the new day to start your day's activities. This isn't practical for most people. But if you are going to work your way thru college it might make more sense to have a job that starts at midnite and then stay awake at work until it is time for your morning classes. Then go to school and then come home and go to sleep.

A much less radical approach which would allow one to keep regular hours would be to do all the non-study activities (chores, errands, jobs, etc) before evening time and reserve all evening hours for studying.

An afternoon siesta might well help the learning process as well.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 July 13 05:20 PM  Brain Memory

Rob said at July 15, 2003 2:59 AM:

I've always been skeptical of people who told me they had "trained" their body to get by on 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I understand that some people need less, but I really don't think you can just get used to getting less sleep than you require and still function effectively.

Randall Parker said at July 15, 2003 11:14 AM:

Rob, I am skeptical of such claims as well. My guess is that some people need less sleep. Whereas others are walking around feeling much worse than they ought to because they do not get enough sleep.

Bob said at July 15, 2003 11:41 AM:

My mother yawns constantly, has difficulty with short and medium term memory, has difficulty concentrating on dialogue, heals slowly and has chronic health problems of uncertain origin. At least once a week she is so fatiqued she spends the entire day napping on the couch. She stays up late, rarely sleeps through the night and has a husband who snores loudly.

Yet, if I try to suggest she needs more sleep, she swears she gets enough already.

Of course, if some quack who has known her for all of 30 seconds or some 20 year old phys ed student working at her gym tells her she needs more sleep, she will tell me what great advice she got and how all she has needed all these years is a good night's sleep. Until then, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope someday some quack suggests she gets more and better sleep. (Who me? Bitter?)

At least Mom doesn't brag about how she thrives on too little sleep.

amal said at February 20, 2006 11:47 AM:

hi, i have a quiet different problem i have mice for science fair experiement(im a student at an international school way back in morocco).i really dont how to deal with these mice especially with sleeping problemsi don't know if they should sleep all day long or just few hours should i keep them in the dark or in the light, i just wonder too much i would be pleased to get some answers to my questions(hopefully before march.6) thank you!!

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