Snooze to Learn More

May 3, 2009 by Ken Nowack

“You don’t get anything from sleep but a dream.”

Don King


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.  How just how much sleep do you need to learn and be healthy?


A new study by epidemiologist Jane Ferrie tracked 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 chacterized as an activated stress state although behaviorally people appear lethargic, fatigued and low energy.


A recent study by Howard Nusbaum at the University Chicago and colleagues suggests we consolidate learning when we are sleeping.  It appears that sleep is pretty important following the goal of learning new facts and for performance on newly acquired skills.

Using a test involving video game learning with 207 college students, Nusbaum and colleagues showed that people who had “forgotten” how to perform a complicated task after 12 hours of training were able to be restored after a night of sleep.  Their results showed that sleep definitely helps us retain knowledge you might forget duirng the day2.

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.

Snooze to Learn More Techniques:

1. Right before sleep, mentally rehearse or review the key points you want to retain and learn ecen if it is physical actions or skills like playing the guitar, shooting hoops or giving  motivating speech to others.

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 have learned something of importance.

4. Practice sound sleep hygiene practices to ensure quality sleep at night (e.g., go to bed the same time each night–even on the weekends to avoid the typical “Sunday night insomnia”).

So, “sleep on this blog” and I guarantee you can share it with someone else tomorrow….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 []
  2. Nusbaum, H. et al. (2008). Learning and Memory, 15, 815-819 []

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 Engagement, Wellness

If You Enjoyed This Post...

You'll love getting updates when we post new articles on leadership development, 360 degree feedback and behavior change. Enter your email below to get a free copy of our book and get notified of new posts:

Follow Envisia Learning:

RSS Twitter linkedin Facebook

Are You Implementing a Leadership Development Program?

Call us to discuss how we can help you get more out of your leadership development program:

(800) 335-0779, x1