Sleep Learning

Sleep well, think well. – John Medina

sleeping brain

Since the year 2000 Matthew Walker, now with U.C. Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, has been conducting experiments to determine whether humans consolidate learning during sleep. In one study, two groups of subjects practised a typing task using their left hands. The groups practised in the morning and were tested for improvement eight hours later. During the day, one group took a nap of about seventy-five minutes while the other stayed awake. For the group that remained awake the test found no significant increase in skill, whereas the group that took a nap recorded a significant increase. NASA also found that having an afternoon nap increases pilot performance. Is there merit in structuring daytime naps after a session of music practice? Have I finally found justification for my afternoon nap? Bliss!

A different study involved testing pianists to learn a short melody. Subjects in Group A were trained at 10:00 a.m. and tested again at 10:00 p.m. They did not sleep during this time, and no significant improvement in performance was noted. Subjects in Group B were trained at 10:00 p.m. and tested again at 10:00 a.m., following a night of sleep. Performance improved significantly. Many scientific studies reinforce the importance of sleep. When players on a Stanford University basketball team increased their sleep time, the team’s overall competitive performance improved.

Sleeping seems to do something to improve memory consolidation that being awake does not. Sleep and rest studies confirm that memories do not just form at the point of learning and that the learning brain does not cease activity when practice ends, whether one is asleep or awake. Neural circuitry takes time to form and consolidate and may require sleep before one recognises the full benefit of practising. This knowledge should alleviate some of the frustration students feel when they do not observe immediate improvement after practice. It also reinforces the importance of getting things right in the first place, prior to rest or sleep. In other words, do not practise mistakes.

We should look at sleep as an active process. Getting enough sleep is a positive thing, which will help you perform in all aspects of life. It may be that extra sleep leads to more effective training routines and helps us learn patterns better. – Derk-Jan Dijk, Professor of Sleep and Physiology at the University of Surrey

from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin

“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, Music Educator, New Haven, USA.

“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Guildhall School of Music, UK.

Amazon UK
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Kindle UK
Foyles UK
Australia: Contact for direct mail.

front cover final

Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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Posted in Music Education
One comment on “Sleep Learning
  1. Karen Robards says:

    All my life, I have been a poor sleeper. However, I have been a very successful church organist, choir director, handbell choir director, and piano and organ teacher. Maybe sleep does not matter as much as we think. Still, I would love to sleep a little more!

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