Sleep is critical to so many different aspects of functioning. Sleep helps regulate emotions, decreases stress, rebuilds and repairs muscle and tissue, and can aid in strengthening the immune system. But can sleep make you smarter?
According to a recent study led by Ingrid L.C. Nieuwenhuis of the Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behavior at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, it can. Nieuwenhuis wanted to test how sleep affected grammatical learning and more specifically, how acquisition and proficiency was affected with and without sleep.
In her study, Nieuwenhuis recruited 81 participants and exposed them to a letter sequencing experiment that was based on artificial grammar. After the exposure, the participants had a delay time of 15 minutes, 12 hours, and 24 hours, and then they were tested again. The 12-hour delay time was either a nonsleep delay or a sleep and waking delay, while the 24-hour delay period included sleep time for all the participants.
Nieuwenhuis discovered that the participants who had some sleep had better language acquisition and proficiency when compared to those with no sleep. This suggests that sleep is not only important for obvious aspects of well-being and functioning, but that it has a large impact on cognitive processes involving complex learning and memory.
The results of this study are in line with previous research demonstrating the positive effects of sleep on cognitive processes. Taken together, these findings indicate that memory and learning are enhanced when people get sleep. In other words, sleep periods are an integral and essential part of maximizing the learning process.
Nieuwenhuis added, “Our findings stress the importance of alternating periods of exposure to a new grammar with periods of sleep for optimal grammar acquisition.” Interpreted in a more general way, these results show that a good night’s sleep after a learning induction can help improve acquisition, retention, and proficiency of material, especially material that is complex and abstract.
Nieuwenhuis, I.L.C., Folia, V., Forkstam, C., Jensen, O., Petersson, K.M. (2013). Sleep promotes the extraction of grammatical rules. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65046. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065046
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