A man that needs better sleep.

Better sleep can improve your learning efficiency.

As children, our parents always told to go to sleep early and that getting enough rest is good for the body. We know that sleep is good for the body, but have you ever wondered how? Does better sleep mean better benefits for the body? Well, deep sleep can help with heart health, your immune system, and so much more. One aspect of deep sleep, in particular, helps our learning efficiency. It is possible for this process to be interrupted. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, they developed a non-invasive method for affecting deep sleep in humans.

Receiving Better Sleep Is Important

A lack of sleep does more than just make you sluggish and tired throughout the day. The nerve cells in our body, called synapses, remain active as we receive information from the environment around us. Once we go to sleep, those active synapses return to normal. However, if we do not receive proper rest, those nerve cells stay active and new information becomes harder to process. Sleep deprivation and other disorders impede your ability to retain new information. This malfunction in your ability to learn can affect how your mind operates.

How Researchers Manipulated the Brain

“We have developed a method that lets us reduce the sleep depth in a certain part of the brain and therefore prove the causal connection between deep sleep and learning efficiency,” says Reto Huber professor at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich and of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UZH.

The study tested several subjects, six women, and seven men. Each of the subjects performed tasks that required them to master three different motoric tasks through finger movements. Once each day ended, the subjects went to sleep. During the first night, they were allowed to sleep uninterrupted. However, after the second night, the experiment truly began. Unbeknownst to the patients, the researchers manipulated the motor cortex using acoustic stimulation.

The effect of the manipulation was not apparent at first. During the morning, the subject performed the motoric tasks and finger movements as usual. As the day went on, however, the subjects made more and more mistakes. This is a contrast compared to the first day of testing, where the patients performed positively. After receiving better sleep again, the subjects exhibited the same results as the first day.

Nicole Wenderoth, professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at the ETH Zurich, explains that “In the strongly excited region of the brain, learning efficiency was saturated and could no longer be changed, which inhibited the learning of motor skills.”

What We Can Learn From This Study

This study is another example of why sleep health and deep sleep is necessary. Brain disorders could affect sleep the same way the researchers did. Huber explains that “Many diseases manifest in sleep as well, such as epilepsy. Using the new method, we hope to be able to manipulate those specific brain regions that are directly connected with the disease.”