Separating study sessions with sleep may be the key to exam success

Sleep could be the key to making memories more accessible(Credit: Mark Sebastian/CC 2.0)

New research from the Association for Physiological Science suggests that taking sleep breaks between study sessions could help you to memorize information faster, and with less effort than repeated learning periods without rest. Previous work in the area had indicated that taking a rest after study can positively effect an individual's memory. The new research attempted to discover whether the act of sleeping between two repetitive learning sessions could further improve a person's memory.

The study saw 40 French-speaking participants randomly divided into two groups. Individuals from both groups were subjected to two identical sessions in which they were presented with 16 French word pairs, alongside their Swahili translation.

For each word pair, the French and Swahili were displayed together for seven seconds. The Swahili words then appeared on the screen alone, and the participants were prompted to type the French translation. The correct translation then flashed up on the screen for four seconds. This process continued until all of the pairs were correctly translated.

The sessions were taken with a 12-hour interval. One group was instructed to sleep between the two exercises, the second, to stay awake. It was discovered following the second exercise that the "sleep" group was able to correctly translate 10 out of the 16 word pairs, while the "awake" group could recall only 7.5 word pairs on average.

"Memories that were not explicitly accessible at the beginning of relearning appeared to have been transformed by sleep in some way," states Stephanie Mazza, a psychological scientist at the University of Lyon, France. "Such transformation allowed subjects to re-encode information faster and to save time during the relearning session."

Furthermore, follow-up tests suggest that the beneficial effects of the learning technique persist for at least six months after the sessions. So, next time you've got a big exam coming up, be sure to employ strategic power naps.

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