A 1997 study published in Nature showed that the damage caused to a person’s intellectual activity by being without sleep for 17 hours in a row is equivalent to that shown by those who have an alcohol concentration of 0.05% in their blood. Many college students manage their study hours by sleeping little Monday through Friday and trying to make up for lost sleep over the weekend, usually after a few hours of nightlife and drinking with friends. It is the so-called “social jet lag”, which inevitably increases in our country when the warm summer nights also invite you to go to sleep later than usual.
In addition to its prophylactic and restorative nature, among the functions of sleep the formation of lasting memories and the structuring of the contents of the mind prevail. Consistent with these functions, neuroscience has shown that during sleep the brain activity that causes learning tends to reproduce, reinforcing the connections between neurons that make it possible. The question is whether these functions are maintained and their effectiveness when the normal hours and the quality of sleep are altered by habits such as “jet lag social ”or alcohol consumption. What must the dream be like to effectively facilitate academic achievement?
To obtain a better performance in a test or exam, it was not enough to sleep well the night before, but to have had enough and quality sleep each day throughout the academic semester
To try to find out, a team of neuroscientists from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States proposed track 88 students’ dream university students (45 were women) during a full academic semester. To permanently estimate the duration and quality of sleep in an objective and ecological way, that is, without disturbing the normal life of the students, the researchers used Fitbit, a commercial tracker that records the movement and patterns of heart and respiratory activity of the user . Previous tests in adults had shown that algorithmic analysis of these records effectively assesses the duration, quality and consistency of sleep in adults.
As expected, the results showed that the more sleep and of higher quality, the better the overall academic performance of the students. But the most innovative thing was to verify that to obtain a better performance in a test or exam, it was not enough to sleep well the night before, but to have had enough and quality sleep each day throughout the academic semester, that is, throughout the entire academic year. learning time. These results make it clear that in order to form consistent and lasting memories, the important thing is to combine the learning sessions during the entire instructional period with a daily program of sufficient quantity and quality of sleep, something that alterations in this program that can oppose. originate certain behaviors and social activities typical of many university students. What is observed in the MIT experiment is purely logical if what the dream does, as we know, is to reinforce the knowledge acquired daily by integrating it into the mental schemes that are already stored in the brain and mind of the student.
The result obtained is also novel because it contradicts those of previous experiments in which significant increases in academic performance had been observed after a single night of good sleep, something that could be more related to the advantage of greater concentration and attention than that night provides to whoever is examined just the next day. In the same experiment, the MIT researchers also observed that university students, that is, girls, generally had a higher quality and consistency sleep than boys, who needed to sleep more than they did to get quality sleep. This, together with the fact that the higher academic performance observed in girls disappeared when sleep patterns were statistically equal, suggests the importance of encouraging boys to have better sleep habits if they want to improve their academic performance. Although the experiment was carried out with university students of an average age somewhat higher than 19 years, its results can be extrapolated to secondary education and, in general, to all those people who want to improve their intellectual performance.
Ignacio Morgado Bernal He is a professor of Psychobiology at the Institute of Neuroscience and at the Faculty of Psychology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Author of ‘Learn, remember and forget: Brain keys to memory and education’ (Ariel, 2017).
Gray matter it is a space that tries to explain, in an accessible way, how the brain creates the mind and controls behavior. The senses, motivations and feelings, sleep, learning and memory, language and consciousness, as well as their main disorders, will be analyzed in the conviction that knowing how they work is equivalent to knowing ourselves better and increasing our well-being and relationships with other people.