Questions & Answers: Does sleep enhance learning?

Questions & Answers

Q. Does sleep enhance learning and memory? Is there a price to pay for cutting down on the hours you sleep?

A. Scientists have long known that getting a good night's sleep helps us learn and remember. Evidence is mounting that the sleeping brain actively consolidates memories. The memories laid down by the sleeping brain are of two kinds. Declarative memory is memory for information — facts, dates, and names. Procedural memory is what allows us to do things like play a musical instrument, ride a bicycle, or add up a bill. Sleep scientists think these two types of memory are influenced by different parts of the sleep cycle, but there is a consistent pattern: Learn something new during the day, consolidate what you have learned during a good night's sleep, then remember or perform the task better in the morning.

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