Scientists implanted rats with special sensors and then trained them to run a particular course in order to find cheese. They found that they could tell where each rat was in the course by monitoring which cells were firing in the rats’ brains. When the rats were sleeping, the scientists noticed something strange. The cells continued to fire in the same order. It was as if the rats were practicing running the course in their sleep.
In another experiment, people were given a mechanical task to learn and repeat quickly. Scientists measured the areas of their brain that were active when performing the task right after learning it. Then they let some of the test group sleep and kept others awake. Then everyone was tested again. They found that the people who had slept were able to perform the task more rapidly. In looking at their brains, they discovered that previously unused parts of the brain were not being used for that particular task, but his only occurred in the individuals who had slept. It was almost as if the brain was able to reorganize how it approached the task during sleep and move some parts to the more subconscious regions of the brain.
These experiments and others have established a strong connection between retained memories/skills and sleep. This is one of the reasons why cramming for a test is much less effective than studying for a shorter period every day. Giving your brain more time to create connections and work things out behind the scenes will help you make the most of your study time.
When you are trying to learn a new skill or concept, be sure to give your brain plenty of time to sleep. This will help make your learning experience as streamlined as possible and result in deeper ingrained skills and memories.