AlzU Blog

What College Students Need to Know About Learning, Sleep and Alzheimer's Disease

Staying up all night to cram, may seem like a good solution for getting through college, but, it’s not the best idea for students who want to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, getting plenty of sleep on a regular basis is a vital aspect of brain health and Alzheimer’s prevention. 

Not only that, but, recent medical research indicates that getting enough sleep is linked with memory—before and after learning new information (or a new task).  So, skimping on sleep to study for a test, may be counterproductive, because lack of sleep may interfere with the brain’s ability to retreive information stored the night before.  That’s not exactly the best plan for acing that upcomming orgainic chemistry test. 

Lack of sleep not only interferes with memory, it also impacts a person’s perception, judgement, mood and motivation.  This means that not only can late-night cramming prevent students from recalling the content they studied, it may also lower overall motivation—something most students really need to power through the semester.

How Much Sleep Should a College Student Get? 

Although the experts suggest that college students and adults of all ages get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, it’s not just the number of hours a person sleeps that matters.  The quality of sleep is important as well.  For example, if you toss and turn, or get up multiple times during the night, it may interfere with learning, memory, focus and attention.

How Does Sleep Impact Memory?

Sleeping soundly, and getting enough rest, is thought to impact memory and learning in a couple of different ways.  First off, a person who is sleep-deprived is unable to focus attention well enough for optimal learning.  If a person concentrates for long enough and overcomes the first hurdle of learning, when sleep deprived, merging memories is the next challenge.  The brain requires adequate sleep to be able to effectively consolidate new information, in order to store it long-term. 

Researchers are beginning to explore the link between how the memory consolidates information for different types of memories, and the various sleep stages.  Dr. Robert Stickgold, Ph.D.,  at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, says that sleep plays a role in memory before and after a new learning event. 

Memory and Sleep Stages

The experts hypothesize that in new learning situations, different types of memories are formed. Scientists are interested in finding out if there is a link between the various stages of sleep, and the consolidation of various types of memories. 

For example, declarative memory involves fact-based knowledge, such as, what a person ate for dinner the night before.  In a previous research study, students taking an intensive foreign language course were observed having an increase in rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM).  REM is considered the stage of sleep—where most dreams occur.  The researchers surmised that REM sleep plays an important role in the attainment of learned material.
Other studies discovered that REM sleep may be involved in declarative memory processes in complex, emotionally charged situations, but not so much when the information is simple or emotionally neutral. 

Another phase of sleep called slow-wave sleep (SWS), a deep, restorative phase of sleep, is thought to play a significant role in declarative memory, by consolidating newly acquired information. 

If you are a college student who is interested in improving your sleep pattern, CLICK HERE to read 22 Tips on How College Students Can Get More Sleep.

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