Sleep Apnea? Sleep After Learning, And You May Do Better

I always slept with the book under my head before a test (never helped!).  But a new study has found that sleep after learning strengthens connections between brain cells and improves memory.

Sleep helps consolidate and strengthen new memories, according to

"Sleep after learning encourages the growth of the tiny protrusions from brain cells that connect to other brain cells and facilitate the passage of information across synapses, the junctions at which brain cells meet. Moreover, the activity of brain cells during deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, after learning is critical for such growth," the Web site reports. 

The study showed for the first time how learning and sleep cause physical changes in the motor cortex, a brain region responsible for voluntary movements.

“We’ve known for a long time that sleep plays an important role in learning and memory. If you don’t sleep well you won’t learn well,” says senior investigator Wen-Biao Gan, PhD, professor of neuroscience and physiology and a member of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.

If you have sleep apnea, or any other kind of sleep disruption, and are a student, this could really help you.  Even if you're not a student, wouldn't this make everyday life easier?

The Web site explains that, on the cellular level, sleep is anything but restful: Brain cells that spark as we digest new information during waking hours replay during deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, when brain waves slow down and rapid-eye movement, as well as dreaming, stops. Scientists have long believed that this nocturnal replay helps us form and recall new memories, yet the structural changes underpinning this process have remained poorly understood.

“Now we know that when we learn something new, a neuron will grow new connections on a specific branch,” says Dr. Gan. “Imagine a tree that grows leaves (spines) on one branch but not another branch. When we learn something new, it’s like we’re sprouting leaves on a specific branch.”

Sounds pretty good to me.

So if you have trouble sleeping, or suffer from sleep apnea or a similar chronic sleep problem, consider learning a few words in a new language, or pick up a new hobby you have to learn.  Or, if you're like me, fall asleep reading a book.


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