Students Should Sleep Well to Study Well

Students who have trouble remembering their class materials should consider getting a few extra hours of sleep every night.

Students who have trouble remembering their class materials should consider getting a few extra hours of sleep every night.

Although previous research has established a link between sleepy quality and student success, a more recent study published in Psychological Science attempted to better understand the effects of repetition and sleep on memory.

To do so, the research team administered a 2-part memory test to 40 adults. For the first part of the test, participants were shown a total of 16 French-Swahili word pairs in random order. After studying a pair for 7 seconds, the participants were presented with the Swahili word and asked to provide the French translation. The researchers would then display the correct word pair for another 4 seconds, repeating this process until each pair had been accurately translated.

For the test’s second part, participants were asked to repeat this exercise again after 12 hours. However, half of the participants performed the first part in the morning, completing the test later that day, while the remaining participants performed the first part in the evening and completed the test the next morning after getting a full night’s sleep.

Participants who slept between the sessions were able to recall an average of 10 words, while those who completed both sessions in the same day were only able to remember an average of 7.5 words. Additionally, the sleep group only needed about 3 trials to recall all 16 words during the second session, while the awake group required an average of 6.

“Memories that were not explicitly accessible at the beginning of relearning appeared to have been transformed by sleep in some way,” said researcher Stephanie Mazza, PhD, in a press release. “Such transformation allowed subjects to re-encode information faster and to save time during the relearning session.”

Sleeping between sessions also appeared to help the participants retain their knowledge in the long term. During a follow-up test 1 week later, the sleep group recalled about 15 word pairs, while the awake group only remembered about 11 pairs. The researchers continued to observe this benefit up to 6 months later.

“Our results suggest that interleaving sleep between practice sessions leads to a 2-fold advantage, reducing the time spent relearning and ensuring a much better long-term retention than practice alone,” Dr. Mazza stated. “Previous research suggested that sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but now we show that sleeping between 2 learning sessions greatly improves such a strategy.”