Test Anxiety: The Importance of Sleep for Your Brain
We all know, or at least have heard, that sleep is good for us, but what is happening to our brains when we don’t get enough sleep?
Dr. James B. Maas, professor at Cornell University, says that “during REM sleep, the brain busily replenishes neurotransmitters that organize neural networks essential for remembering, learning, performance and problem-solving.” Inversely, he says when your brain is being deprived of sleep, that “makes you clumsy, stupid, and unhealthy.”
So, let’s say you study really hard on Monday to further prepare before your test on Thursday. After your Monday study session, you are starting to remember a little bit more of the material, and then you sleep 5 and a half hours every night through Thursday.
You are actually worse off than if you had not studied at all, by the time Thursday comes.
This is because, during the sleeping stage Rapid Eye Movement (REM), your brain is working to gather and move short-term memories from the motor cortex into the temporal lobe to be stored for long-term memory usage.
During this transference of memory from short-term to long-term, our sleep spindles are actively firing and working to make this happen. However, when you get less than six hours of sleep, this can inhibit your sleep spindles and completely stop what you’ve learned from being stored for long-term memory usage.
Dr. Matthew Wilson, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Dr. John Allan Hobson, professor at Harvard University, performed a study on memory using rats. In their study, they found that the rats appeared to be dreaming about something very interesting. They were dreaming about the maze that they had been learning to navigate.
The two researchers had discovered that patterns of the rat’s brain activity were identical to when the rats had run the maze. Even the brain activity from when the rats had been given chocolate-flavored sprinkles (for completing the maze) was duplicated in their sleep.
More specifically, the patterns of brain activity, identified in the firing clusters of cells in the hippocampus, which is where a lot of memory formation and storage occur, were duplicated during the REM stages of their sleep. In fact, the patterns were so accurate that the researchers were able to identify exactly which part of the maze they were in if the mice were awake, despite whether they were active or motionless.
This study served as a bit of a breakthrough in the study of memory and just how important of a role sleep plays in allowing us to retain learned information. But not just sleep. Adequate, restful sleep, where our sleep spindles are able to fire in the REM stages and transfer the new information into our long-term memory storage.
Allowing ourselves adequate amounts of sleep each night not only plays a vital role in our overall physical and mental health but it also helps in eliminating test anxiety. This is because of our ability to more easily access studied information due to the fact that it has been transferred to our long-term memories.
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