Although there has not been a compromise on the reason why we need sleep, prior research believes that sleep help our body replenishes energy, balances our mood, and aids us in dealing with emotional stress, yet no research has found the direct correlation between sleep and better learning--until now. While spending some time searching about dream and the important of sleep, I came across an interesting article on Science Daily shows that maybe catching some ZZZs is a proactive way to enhancing learning ability. From what the article has explained, the researcher from the UC Berkeley has found evidence linking sleep spindles in non-REM sleep and regions of brain that focused on learning.
Unlike REM sleep which accounts most of the dreams we have experienced, the non-REM sleep are also important as well by making up more than half of our sleeping hours. The sleep spindles in non-REM sleep are low amplitude and high frequency waves and they can occur up to 1,000 times a night and happen most "frequently during the second half of the night"(ScienceDaily). Through electroencephalogram testes that measured the electrical activity of the brain, it shows that during NREM sleep, these sleep spindles travel back and forth from the areas of the hippocampus to the working memory of prefrontal cortex. What it means is that the electrical signals transfer the short-term memory from the hippocampus to the "hard-drive" of prefrontal cortex. If this is true, these sleep spindles can help one enhance their ability to learn by freeing up all the temporary data that is stored in the hippocampus. They also did a real-life experiment by taken 44 young adults and subjected them through variety of memorization tasks. In the end, the group that gets more sleep do better at memorization than the other group that awake throughout the experiment.
Because spindle-rich sleep happen during the second half of sleep, researchers believe that a well-rounded sleep is more important in learning. This study shows a new perspective on sleep and student's academic life. While we know that to do well on an exam we need to get some sleep to release the stress, this research shows that sleep also helps clear the path of our learning, refresh our memory capacity, as well as to consolidate our prior learning experiences.
University of California - Berkeley (2011, March 8). As we sleep, speedy brain waves boost ou ability to learn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110308124748.htm