We have written before about the benefits of sleep for students. Now a new study further demonstrates how sleep can be helpful in learning.

An article in Business Week talks about a recent study in which volunteers were given words to memorize in the evening and then the night to sleep on them. The study showed that the next morning, the volunteers remembered more words than they had right after learning them the night before.

Another group that memorized words without intervening sleep did not do nearly as well as the sleep-assisted group.

Study of the volunteers’ brains activity during sleep showed that deep sleep and a brain activity called “Sleep Spindles” played a role in the retention of the memories. The “Sleep Spindles” refer to periods when there is short but strong brain activity. Scientists say that, during this brain activity, information is being transferred between two parts of the brain responsible for storing memory.

The study came out Nov. 2 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

It is already clear that sleep is an essential part of student achievement. Now, when it comes to memories, we know a little more about why that is. And the Journal of Neuroscience isn’t the only source talking about it. The National Institute of Mental Health says that short naps are better than caffeine for memory.

A study had volunteers do verbal memory, motor, and perceptual learning tasks in the morning. After lunch, some volunteers napped while two other groups listened to a book on tape and were given either caffeine or a placebo. The results showed that those who took a nap performed better than both other groups in tasks given to them by the researchers.

This is powerful evidence for the benefit of sleep, but also a strong indicator that caffeine isn’t as great as it’s made out to be. Turns out that caffeine can interfere with “explicit” tasks, like memorizing words. It does not have a negative effect on “implicit” tasks, like learning to ride a bike, however. Read the details about the caffeine study by clicking here.

Our fast-paced society and its emphasis on skipping sleep and stocking up on caffeine appears to be messing with our ability to learn. Increasingly, studies are showing that sleep is a powerful tool. One we neglect at our own peril.