The Value of Sleep

This has very little to do with baseball, but I know I have a lot of student readers out there to whom this might be relevant. A few times this month I have run into serious problems in a project—it happens to be baseball-related—I have been working on, only to find the answer in my dreams. For example, last night I went to bed perplexed about a complicated problem. I had thought about the problem all day, looking at many possible solutions, but I wasn’t confident in my answers. When I woke up this morning, the answer was clear. I don’t know what happened during that black box of R.E.M., but it worked. When I was in college and grad school, I can remember studying in my dreams. I don’t know how I did it, and it wasn’t intentional.

I guess my point is, I have so many students tell me they stayed up all night studying for a test. From my personal experience, I have learned that trading off sleep to acquire extra information is not the best way to further knowledge. Maybe there is a reader out there who has studied sleep and can comment on this, but I have found sleeping to be one of the most helpful intellectual tools I employ. Now, certainly there are diminishing returns to slumber, but so too are the returns to being awake. So, the next time you are having trouble solving a problem, I suggest sleeping on it.

6 Responses “The Value of Sleep”

  1. Jay Wigley says:

    There is plenty of research available (much of it can be browsed through a web search) that links sleep with both efficient learning and with problem solving. I’m a math teacher, and I tell all my students that a full night’s sleep is more valuable than a night’s worth of cramming. Lack of sleep limits the brain in many, many ways, (not just learning) including creativity, reaction time, and memory function.

  2. I agree, sleep is key. I too have found myself studying for a test while sleeping. Things always work out much better with a decent night of sleep.

  3. Phil says:

    Hi, JC. This has happened to me many times. Here’s a website that has some information on what the brain does during sleep (about halfway down the page, by the image of the brain):

    http://brainhealth.utdallas.edu/newsletter/2005W/winter2005.html

    It sounds like the mind keeps processing the information it received before bedtime and we sometimes “wake up” with a solution to a problem. It doesn’t say why, though, and I couldn’t find an answer in the google search I tried.

  4. Kyle S says:

    I’ll chime in on the benefits of sleep. I always cut off studying the night before a test around 12:30a – 1:00a to allow at least 6-8 hours of sleep, and I never felt shortchanged. Usually, by that point, you either know the material or you don’t, and the extra studying won’t help much anyway.

  5. Very nice link Phil. Lately, I’ve been shortchanging sleep for time to learn VB programming–not a smart idea. I plan to make sleep more of a priority in my life.

  6. Phil says:

    Xian, trust me: as you get older, naps becomes a required part of every day, as well as a good night’s sleep :-)