Tag Archives: effective learning

Why Sleep When You Can Drink Coffee? (Part 3)

My two previous blogs discussed both coffee/caffeine and sleep, to an extent, and the way they operate individually.  Now let’s address an important question regarding their overlap with one another:

Can coffee be an effective replacement for sleep when it comes to brain functioning and mental capabilities, specifically with learning and memorizing?

Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “not really”.

To see why this is true, let’s briefly look at the three main components of learning/memorizing:

  • Acquisition/encoding, which is the actual experiencing of something new
  • Consolidation/storage, where information is made smaller and committed to memory
  • Recall/retrieval, which is the ability to remember a memory later on

Acquisition and recall happen while you are awake: you consciously consume new information or try and remember old information. However, consolidation—which is essential to learning and remembering something long term because it is when our brain forms new neural connections to store information—happens mostly during sleep.

A recent study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins and UC-Irvine found that caffeine can in fact help memory consolidation if it is consumed shortly after someone learns something new. This would suggest that it does impact step 2, even though the caffeine is consumed while you are awake and consolidation happens while you are asleep.

Without sleep, the impact of the caffeine on memory would be negligible because there
wouldn’t be time for the brain to actually perform the task of consolidation anyway.

One of the biggest reasons why we cannot learn well without enough sleep is because of the timing of when we memorize things during sleep and how long it takes for one cycle of sleep to complete.

Just like the repairing of our muscles, our brain restores itself most during deep sleep (stages 3 and 4 of NREM) and REM sleep.

It takes roughly 70-90 minutes for our body to enter into REM sleep, which is the most important stage for learning and memory. Once there, we only spend about 20 minutes in REM during our first sleep cycle. As we progress into further cycles, we begin to spend more and more time in REM sleep.

So, it is easy to see why we do not learn well when we aren’t sleeping well: our brains need a good amount of time in REM sleep, but we don’t get it unless we stay asleep for multiple cycles.

Adults need roughly 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night (yikes, I never get that much) to be fully functional (some need more and a few less), which is roughly 4-6 cycles of sleep. Thus, sleeping 4-6 hours a night means you could be missing multiple cycles of REM-rich sleep that you need for your brain to consolidate memories and remember processes.

And this is only talking about missing one night of good sleep. The reality is that many of us are consistently losing sleep on a night-to-night basis, resulting in sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, something many people may not Sleep Versus Coffeeknow is that sleep deprivation is cumulative. This means that if you go 5 days in a row with those 4-6 hours of sleep, you could be 10-20 hours in debt, rather than just a couple hours from an individual night. Because the amount you need to sleep does not reset from night to night, over time this built up sleep debt will cause you to consistently perform worse in almost every area—cognitive, physical, reaction time, etc.

While coffee can help a little bit for a short time to combat this, it simply cannot overcome such a significant and powerful phenomenon. Plus, the extra jolt you get from coffee to help ward off sleep deprivation probably isn’t making you more focused than you would be if you had a proper amount of sleep. Rather, it is simply trying to get you close to the level of efficiency you would be operating at if you had the right amount of sleep in the first place. And, when the coffee wears off, you will feel extra tired because your brain is being overloaded with the sleep-inducing chemical adenosine that the caffeine is no longer blocking.

With this in mind, the conclusion is that there is simply no replacement for sleep. Almost all the research shows that sleep is potentially the most important thing you can do for your emotional, physical, and mental health, and for your ability to learn.

Coffee can help you to an extent when you aren’t able to rest up fully, but it can never truly serve as a replacement for a good night’s rest, especially when it comes to your ability to learn and remember things.

Ultimately, your ability to concentrate, perform, and learn is at its prime when you have the right number of hours of sleep, not the right number of cups of coffee.

Happy sleeping, enjoy your coffee, and happy learning,

Craig

About the Author


craig-photoCraig Jensen
 is the President and CEO of LearnNowOnline. Craig has led the company’s change from instructor-led classroom training, to self-study CD/DVD training, to the award winning online learning solutions offered today. Craig is passionate about helping individuals and businesses of all sizes solve their problems through practical learning and technology. He is involved in setting direction for the company, including selecting training content for development with resources to support all learning styles. He is also involved in The CEO Roundtable organization in the Twin Cities as well as the Minnesota High Tech organization. In his spare time, Craig loves to travel, golf, and partake in water sports of all kinds.

Why Sleep When You Can Drink Coffee? (Part 2)

Sleep is one of the biggest mysteries … why do we need it?

Although we still can’t really answer that question properly, scientists have made strides in understanding what it does, how it works, and what happens to our bodies and brains when we aren’t getting enough of it.

My last post discussed coffee/caffeine and how it affects our brain.  Following this blog post, I will look at how coffee and caffeine overlap with sleep, and whether caffeine can actually help to replace sleep.Getting Sleep

Before looking at that relationship, however, let’s look at how sleep works so that we know what we are dealing with.

Here’s some of what we know: (a snoozer for you if you don’t like facts)

Sleep is comprised of two different stages: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). A majority of our time sleeping is spent in NREM (roughly 75-80 percent) which has four stages of its own where we move progressively deeper into sleep. After these four stages, we move into REM (the other 20-25 %), where we get some of our deepest and most restorative sleep.

NREM begins with a very light stage 1 sleep where we drift in and out of being awake and asleep for about 10-20 minutes. After this, we enter stage 2, which is deeper and more stable. We spend about 50 percent of our total time asleep in this stage.

Once we move to stage 3 and 4, we enter SWS (slow-wave sleep), or “deep sleep.” Our blood pressure and body temperature drop, as does our breathing rate. Our muscle tissue and energy begin to be restored, partially because of the release of different hormones. During these stages we have little-to-no eye movement or muscle activity. Our brain also begins to consolidate memories, which is an essential function for not only remembering and recalling information later on, but also for making room for new memories to be stored.

After the 4 stages of NREM sleep, we finally enter into REM sleep. Here, true to its name, our eyes move rapidly as we dream vividly. Our breathing becomes quick and irregular and our muscles often become paralyzed, although our heart rate and blood pressure rise. REM sleep, along with stage 3 and 4 of NREM, is essential because of its physical, mental, and emotionally restorative powers.

Even though we don’t know why we need sleep, it is clear that it is incredibly important. Sleep’s restorative functions facilitate much of our mental and physical health, including our ability to learn efficiently.

But, the real question is, is sleep essential for learning? We already know that coffee allows our brain to fire more neurons when it is consumed because the caffeine blocks the chemical adenosine responsible for slowing down nerve activity. Firing more neurons allows for higher brain activity/efficiency and more capacity for performing tasks.

Isn’t that enough to facilitate learning?

Sorry for the teaser but… Stay tuned for part 3.

Craig

 

About the Author


craig-photoCraig Jensen
 is the President and CEO of LearnNowOnline. Craig has led the company’s change from instructor-led classroom training, to self-study CD/DVD training, to the award winning online learning solutions offered today. Craig is passionate about helping individuals and businesses of all sizes solve their problems through practical learning and technology. He is involved in setting direction for the company, including selecting training content for development with resources to support all learning styles. He is also involved in The CEO Roundtable organization in the Twin Cities as well as the Minnesota High Tech organization. In his spare time, Craig loves to travel, golf, and partake in water sports of all kinds.

Why Sleep When You Can Drink Coffee?

As I am sitting in my office trying hard to not fall asleep, I am realizing I didn’t get enough sleep last night.  If you are like me (and 82% of adults nationwide), you probably drink many cups of coffee every morning. It not only feels like a great way to wake up but also seems to help create an energy boost after not sleeping enough the night before.

I am always interested in learning, so I’ve looked into the effects of both coffee and sleep on the body and the brain, specifically.  It’s fascinating–in my opinion–how coffee and sleep can impact your ability to learn.

I’ll start with coffee, and if you don’t want to know the fascinating stuff, just read the next
sentence then go pour yourself a cup.

CoffeeBoostMost of us know that caffeine is a stimulant but few likely know how drinking a cup actually affects us, other than making us feel more alert.

Coffee (caffeine) doesn’t really provide a boost of new energy.  It actually tricks our brain into thinking that we aren’t running out of the energy that we already have. This is because, to the brain, caffeine looks just like the chemical adenosine, which is naturally released over the course of a day.

Adenosine is largely what is responsible for causing us to become sleepy because as it builds up over the day and binds to receptors in the brain, it slows down nerve cell activity, causing you to progressively feel the need to sleep and recuperate.  However, because caffeine looks like adenosine to the brain, when it is ingested, it binds to these receptors and blocks the adenosine from doing so. Because caffeine doesn’t have the same “slowing” effect as adenosine, your brain doesn’t register that it’s time for sleep.

Because of this effect, you become less drowsy and your brain is able to fire neurons at a higher pace and continue working at a better efficiency.  The problem with this is that we “crash” later in the day because all of the built up adenosine that has been blocked can finally rush to the receptors, overloading them and bringing a feeling of extreme drowsiness.

In addition to its ability to “block” sleepiness, caffeine also helps produce adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster and increases blood flow. And, some recent studies seem to indicate that if you consume coffee right after learning something new, there is a better chance you will be able to remember it the next day.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, above was a real snoozer, huh?

Of course, “everything in moderation:” scientists say that up to 400 mg of caffeine is ok on a daily basis, but anything more could become excessive. That’s the equivalent of about 4-5 cups of coffee, 10 cans of caffeinated pop, or two energy drink shots, depending on the strength of each drink.

One downside is that if you drink coffee (caffeine) consistently, your body will build up a “tolerance” (this is actually your brain adding more adenosine receptors that the caffeine can bind to) and thus will require more of it to achieve the same effect. The easiest way to limit this is to be mindful; try to limit your caffeine intake when possible so that when you do need that boost, you won’t have to take in an unhealthy amount of caffeine.

So, is coffee a sufficient replacement/solution for not sleeping enough? And does it impact learning?

Stay tuned,

Craig

 

About the Author


craig-photoCraig Jensen
 is the President and CEO of LearnNowOnline. Craig has led the company’s change from instructor-led classroom training, to self-study CD/DVD training, to the award winning online learning solutions offered today. Craig is passionate about helping individuals and businesses of all sizes solve their problems through practical learning and technology. He is involved in setting direction for the company, including selecting training content for development with resources to support all learning styles. He is also involved in The CEO Roundtable organization in the Twin Cities as well as the Minnesota High Tech organization. In his spare time, Craig loves to travel, golf, and partake in water sports of all kinds.

Learn, Retain, And Succeed

Previously, I addressed the different ways in which people learn best. I referenced the VARK guide to different learning styles, designed by Neil Fleming. He outlined four main learning styles: Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic. Fleming identified many factors/dimensions that can also affect how well we learn on a case-by-case basis, but overall these other considerations and external factors are usually secondary to the four VARK styles.

I think of the four styles above in simple terms: See, Listen, Read, Do. People learn best in one or more of these styles and each person is unique, which is why I think it is critical that people be able to pick the learning style or styles that fit them best. The best learning content will encompass all four of these styles.

Many articles relating to different learning styles and effective methods of retaining information are centered on improvements in a school/education based setting. These may seem irrelevant for someone focused on Web development or IT training.

However, if you take the time to read some of these articles and think about the information contained within them, you can find valuable knowledge that will help with your ability and approach to learning and mastering web development and new applications.

One article like this is featured in the New York Times under the “Well” tab of their “Health” section.  In it, author Tara Parker-Pope summarized a recently published book titled How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens written by fellow NYT author Benedict Carey.

The link of the NYTimes article is shown at the bottom of this blog, check it out.

Parker-Pope (via Carey) suggests that even though someone may receive good grades on an exam, that doesn’t mean that they truly or effectively learned the material they were studying (I am sure many of us have first-hand experience with this). The reason for this is that many people “cram” a large amount of information during one session, often at the last minute. While this may work as a short-term solution (like for a test the next day), it is rare for cramming to be an effective method for understanding and remembering information, processes, and concepts long-term. The brain functions better for long-term learning when it studies and practices things multiple times over a spaced-out stretch of time. Attempting to learn massive amounts of information in one session can overload it and sap its ability to categorize information as being important enough to remember permanently.

So what does this have to do with mastering Developer, IT Pro and/or Design skills?

We know the importance of understanding the best style or styles in which you learn (VARK). We also know that having access to content that spans all of these styles is invaluable—which is why we offer many different forms of our material—because it allows every individual to play to their unique learning-style strengths.

Equally as important to effective learning, though—as this New York Times article highlights—is more than just understanding your learning styles, and having content that compliments them: it also includes the way in which you go about taking in, absorbing, and remembering that content.

The amount of information involved with learning and mastering a new application or developer’s tool can easily become overwhelming if you do not have a solid, manageable approach. You may not always comprehend things right away, and sometimes you may need to revisit different sections of a training program to get a better grasp on certain content or concepts.

The best content should allow you to take things step-by-step, piece-by-piece. Online content is especially great because it allows you to revisit anything at any time, and from any location. Mapping out the most effective and efficient learning plan for you based off your learning styles, learning pace, and the content you will be consuming can go a long way towards helping you succeed in your career.

When it comes to online Developer, IT Pro, and Design skills, you should strive to learn as efficiently and effectively as you can. You should seek out the most accessible, diverse, and up-to-date training on the market, from knowledgeable professionals who truly want to help you achieve your learning goals. You should demand a training solution that offers a variety of different tools and styles—whether that be video, courseware and books, pre and post-testing, hands-on labs, “follow the expert” or “try it out” features, or even simply written training manuscripts for those who prefer to internalize through reading.

Pace yourself, and know that learning these different technologies and tools is often a marathon, not a sprint. Figure out your learning styles and use our training tools to play to those strengths. Don’t be afraid to review concepts you need more practice with, and if you are using LearnNowOnline as your guide, utilize our pre-tests to determine what you need help with and out post-tests to see how well you are mastering the material. Additionally, make sure you are keeping yourself healthy and happy outside of work too—whether that is through good eating, exercise and/or (especially!) sleeping habits—so that you are ready and able to focus on learning when you are on the job (more about eating and sleeping later).

Happy Learning

Craig

 

Check out the article “Better ways to learn” at

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/06/better-ways-to-learn/?_r=0

For more info on the Vark Guide see http://vark-learn.com/home/

 

About the Author


craig-photoCraig Jensen
 is the President and CEO of LearnNowOnline. Craig has led the company’s change from instructor-led classroom training, to self-study CD/DVD training, to the award winning online learning solutions offered today. Craig is passionate about helping individuals and businesses of all sizes solve their problems through practical learning and technology. He is involved in setting direction for the company, including selecting training content for development with resources to support all learning styles. He is also involved in The CEO Roundtable organization in the Twin Cities as well as the Minnesota High Tech organization. In his spare time, Craig loves to travel, golf, and partake in water sports of all kinds.