Friday, 1 June 2018

Sleep Learning - my plan to read the entire works of Shakespeare via overnight audiobooks

I've recently made my peace with sleep. I used to resent it, and tried hard to avoid it. It seemed like a waste of time when I could be awake doing stuff. I couldn't fathom why anyone would go to bed at 11pm unless they had an early flight to catch.

Through reading neurology research papers I began to understand why we sleep, and what goes on in the brain. It turns out sleep is very productive thing to be doing.

With our eyes shut in the peace and quiet, our offline brain doesn't have to deal with distracting input and gets to work sifting through the previous days' events, consolidating them into memories.

Our brains busy themselves making connections between these new chunks of information, forming and strengthening neural networks as they create a cross-referenced library of knowledge.
Dreams are evidence of this activity. The brain plays back a seemingly haphazard jumble of old and new information, forming a semi-reality. Dreams are often attributed with mystical significance, but they're really just our brains doing some admin.

The random connections experienced in dreams explains why people have 'eureka' moments of creativity in their sleep. I keep a notepad next to my bed and write down whatever's in my head when I wake up. It's almost always bruck, but there's been some pretty good ideas amongst it. To the folk I've sent messages to at 3am saying 'I've had this brilliant idea", I apologise.

Research suggests that the reason drunk people are repetitive and can't remember much the next day is because the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for several key roles in memory formation, doesn't work well when it's pickled. The result is that boozy folk can have literally no memory of what they've just said, let alone form useful memories overnight.

Unfortunately, the idea of being able to absorb new information while we sleep is largely debunked so my plan to 'read' the works of Shakespeare via overnight audiobooks is on hold.

I now think of sleep as a sound investment rather than a waste of time. I'm chuffed to know my brain will be hard at work, coming up with nonsensical ideas while the rest of me has a snooze. Table tennis for cats, anyone? That's not a bad idea actually....

Published in Shetland Life magazine in June 2018

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