If You Want to Learn More, Sleep on this Blog

March 17, 2008 by Ken Nowack

The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.”

Wilson Mizener

People can maximize their brain capacity to learn by getting enough sleep.  But the amount could determine not just how well you live but how long you live.


Sleep occurs in 90 minute cycles with the most important phase called rapid eye movement sleep (REM) coming nearly 60 minutes into this cycle.  Current research suggests that without REM sleep, the brain discards what we learned the previous day preceding sleep.  During REM sleep your voluntary muscles are completely inhibited and this is the time your brain dreams and appears to consolidate learning and memories from the day’s activities.

It’s as if during REM the brain cleans the closet and rids itself of the “junk” saving only the critically important things you want stored for the future.  Without enough sleep and REM to organize your brain’s circuits, we just don’t learn as fast and as well.

To maximize learning, try these techniques:

  1. Right before sleep, mentally rehearse or review the key points you want to retain and learn.
  2. As soon as you wake up in the morning, review the main points again to reinforce the neural circuits that were “layed down” during REM sleep.
  3. Get adequate sleep (enough sleep for you so that you don’t feel inappropriately sleepy the next day) before and after you are preparing to and have learned something of importance.


In a new study by epidemiologist Jane Ferrie who studied over 7,700 British  civil servants about their sleep habits over an 8 year period1.  The study found a U-shaped association in sleep and subsequent all-cause mortality. Short sleepers (less than 6 hours) and long sleepers (nine hours or more) both had 110% increase risk of dying from heart disease.

The link between decreased hours of sleep and higher cardiovascular mortality risk seems to make some sense based on prior research. Short sleep duration is a risk factor for weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, increased cortisol levels and abnormal growth hormone secretion (associated with hypertension and some cardiovascular diseases).

The link between death and long sleepers is mysterious.  Long sleep is typically a sign of depression which is characterized as an activated stress state although behaviorally people appear lethargic, fatigued and low energy.

Guess I will go and take a short nap….Be well….
[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. Ferrie, J. et. al (2008).  A Prospective Study of Change in Sleep Duration: Associations with Mortality in the Whitehall II Cohort. Sleep, 30 (12), 1659-1666 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Wellness

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