Are you a healthy eater? Trying to eat healthy might be more difficult if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Researchers from Columbia University scanned the brains of 25 men and women, while they looked at pictures of food. Before they were tested, they were kept in a lab for 5 days. Some of these people were allowed to sleep for 9 hours a night, and others were only allowed 4 hours of sleep. When these two groups of people were allowed to eat whatever they wanted, the tired people ate an average of 300 calories more.
The brains of people who had a good night’s sleep and people who were lacking sleep, looked very different. The tired people showed much more activity in the reward centers of their brain. The reward centers of the brain get filled with the chemical dopamine when we experience pleasure. It seems that tired people experience more dopamine and more pleasure when they see junk food and this causes them to eat more.
So if you want to eat healthy, you need to get enough sleep, but eating isn’t the only thing we have trouble with, when we don’t get enough sleep. Learning is also affected by how much sleep you get.
When we sleep we give our brains time to process new information. John Medina is the director of the Brain center for Applied Learning. In his book, Brain Rules, he talks about an experiment where 2 groups of students were given a series of math problems. Both groups were taught a technique for solving the problems, but there was an easier way to solve these problems. The first group was given a break, after which, 20% of the students found the easier method. The second group we’re also given the same break time, but 60% discovered the easier method. The only difference was the second group slept during the break.
This experiment was run many times, and the results we’re always the same. Many experiments on learning have shown that sleep doesn’t just rest our bodies. It also gives our brain space to make new connections, solve problems and store information.
Let’s try a little experiment. Try listening to some English lessons right before you sleep everyday for the next week. It could be this lesson or something else. Listen again in the morning and see if your understanding increases. Tell us about your experience in the comments.