New Research Shows The Best Way To Retain Information Is To Sleep After You Learn It

March 29, 2012

Student sleeping on deskGoing to sleep soon after studying is best for recall, according to new research.

"Our study confirms that sleeping directly after learning something new is beneficial for memory," Jessica Payne, the head researcher and Chair in Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, told the school's College of Arts and Letters.

The researchers said they chose to look at how sleep affects memory because it was unknown whether going to sleep or staying awake for long periods caused people to forget new material, GOOD noted.

The researchers divided 207 Harvard students who typically slept at least six hours per night into groups and had them memorize two sets of word pairs, one set related semantically, the other not, reported the College of Arts and Letters. One group learned the words at 9 a.m. and continued their day. The other group studied them at 9 p.m. and went to sleep immediately after. All students were tested 30 minutes, 12 hours or 24 hours later.

"What's novel about this study is that we tried to shine light on sleep's influence on both types of declarative memory by studying semantically unrelated and related word pairs," Payne said.

Declarative memory is the ability to consciously remember facts and events. It consists of episodic memory (for events) and semantic memory (for facts about the world). At the 12-hour retest, memory overall was superior after a night of sleep compared to a day of wakefulness. This only applied, however, to recall of the unrelated word pairs.

At the 24-hour retest, after a full night of sleep and a full day of wakefulness, the students' memories were superior when sleep occurred soon after learning as opposed to following a full day of wakefulness. The researchers concluded when you go to sleep after learning something, you slow the rate of memory deterioration -- the speed at which you forget information -- after waking. This suggests then, GOOD noted, that getting sufficient sleep is a crucial part of learning new information and plays an important role in stabilizing new memories.

In 2010, Payne delivered a video talk on the importance of sleep, The Future of Things reported. She said sleep, critical to our bodies, allows us to process what we learn, make connections and be creative.

"Since we found that sleeping soon after learning benefited both types of memory, this means that it would be a good thing to rehearse any information you need to remember just prior to going to bed," Payne said. In some sense, you may be 'telling' the sleeping brain what to consolidate.

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"If You Sleep After You Study, You'll Remember More,", March 28, 2012, Liz Dwyer

"Jessica Payne's Research Shows Benefit of Sleeping After Processing New Info,", March 26, 2012, Susan Guibert

"Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake,", March 22, 2012, Payne JD, Tucker MA, Ellenbogen JM, Wamsley EJ, Walker MP, et al.

"Sleeping After You Learn Will Help You Remember,", March 26, 2012, Iddo Genuth

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