Wellness, Home & Lifestyle, Science & Tech

Fire Up the Brain

Matthew Walker

Lesson time 17:17 min

Learn how a good night’s sleep affects your ability to learn, solve problems, and harness creativity—and how those skills are affected when you don’t get sufficient sleep.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Hitting the “Save” Button •The Ultimate Problem Solver • Harness Your Creative Genius


[MUSIC PLAYING] - When it comes to your learning and memory function, how is sleep important? Well, it turns out that sleep is critical for learning and memory in at least three different ways. First, we know that you need sleep before learning to prepare your brain to lay down those new memory traces. But then you need sleep after learning to cement those memories into the neural architecture of the brain. You also need sleep after learning to associate and assimilate and integrate all of that information together. These are the three different ways that sleep is critical for your learning and memory function. So the first way in which sleep is critical is that we need sleep before learning to get our brain ready, almost like a dry sponge ready to initially soak up new information. And without sleep, the memory circuits of the brain essentially become waterlogged, as it were, and you can't absorb new information effectively. So let me give you an example. Several years ago, we decided to conduct a study where we tested a very simple hypothesis. Is pulling the all-nighter is a good idea before the exam? So we took a group of otherwise perfectly healthy young adults, and we assigned them to one of two different experimental groups-- a sleep group and then a sleep deprivation group. Now the sleep group, they got a full eight hours of sleep. But the deprivation group, we kept them awake in the laboratory under full supervision-- no naps, no caffeine. It was miserable for everyone. And then the next day, we placed those participants one at a time inside an MRI scanner. And we had them try and learn a whole list of new facts as we were taking snapshots of brain activity. And then we tested them to see how effective that learning had been. When we looked at those two groups head to head, what we found is that there was almost a 40% deficit in the ability of the brain to make new memories under conditions of sleep deprivation. And we went on then to discover what actually goes wrong within the brain to produce these types of learning disabilities. Now there's a structure that sits on the left and the right side of your brain. And it's called the hippocampus. And you can think of the hippocampus almost like the informational inbox of your brain. It's very good receiving new memory files and then holding onto them. When we looked at this structure in those people who'd had a full night of sleep, there was lots of healthy learning-related activity. Yet in those people who were sleep deprived, we actually couldn't find any significant signal whatsoever. So it's almost as though sleep deprivation had shut down your memory inbox. And any new incoming files-- they were just being bounced. You couldn't effectively commit new experiences to memory. We not only need sleep before learning to get the brain ready to initially put down and sort of create those new memories. We also need sleep after learning but now to cement those ...

About the Instructor

As a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, Matthew Walker is an expert on sleep. In this class, he will illuminate the science behind sleep and teach you how to increase the quality and quantity of your sleep. Learn how to prevent sleep debt, navigate the effects of alcohol and caffeine, and improve your health. Your best sleep starts tonight.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Matthew Walker

Neuroscience professor Matthew Walker teaches you the science of sleep and how to optimize it to better your overall health.

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