Learning Skills And Training Intervals. Effective Study Is Freaky:
Part of a good, full life is lifelong learning.
And that is something that doesn’t just end with high-school or college.
Whatever it is, self-improvement reading, sudoku, new languages, authoritative lute-shredding, we’re all “graduate students” of a sort.
So of course, one of the things we try to do is make learning easier and faster.
Like with brain-pow supplements like phosphatidylserine or l-theanine.
But if the NDS’s research team has anything to say about it, we might have just gotten concrete insight on an even more-powerful tool to turbocharge your brain…
The Short Answer:
- A good life means lifelong learning.
- A great follow-up to that is to make it faster & easier.
- Some supplements can help.
- Sleep is a really key factor to all kinds of health, especially for your brain.
- Naps probably don’t get as much credit for health, productivity, & learning as they should.
- Neither do Breaks.
- The “Mental Health Break” people really were onto something.
- 33 Subjects were placed in brain-scanners to complete a sensorimotor learning task.
- It turns out their brains were still working even after they took breaks.
- They appeared on the scanners to go through the exact same procedures as before, except 20x faster.
- This equates to about 25x in each 10 second break.
- There was unexpected levels of activity in the brain’s memory center.
- Even after the training stopped, the subjects’ brains were still performing the same activity, just slower than 20x speed.
- So it appears most of the actual “learning” takes place during the breaks between task-performance.
- This acceleration in learning is probably not limited to sensorimotor tasks like typing or button-pressing.
- Anything that involves what scientists call “Procedural Learning” may benefit from a similar format.
- Dr. Cohen posits that only 10 percent of learning is done during sleep.
- So now we all need to figure out how to apply the train-rest-train-rest cadence to our own studies in order to learn quicker & easier.
Read on to find out the details…
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Oftentimes, Sleep gets a ton of credit for its role in learning and memory-consolidation.
And if Tony Schwartz is right, it might even be more important than food from a certain point of view.
Because chronic sleep debt kills productivity; and probably a few other things, too.
After the magic of sleep, it turns out that naps should get a ton more credit, too.
If you read the post on Dr. Sara Mednick’s TED talk, you would know that:
1) Naps are better at recharging your brain than coffee.
2) They make you as productive & sharp as you were the moment you showed up for work.
3) They can even revamp your accuracy & productivity for a whole day.
4) And perhaps the whole work week, too!
But ask anybody who’s overworked and looking at burnout for what they really need,
And what they’ll say after “a nap” or “more sleep” is,
Well, strangely enough, that’s what leads us up to this really interesting learning hack from Dr. Leonardo Cohen’s team (not to be confused with Leonard Cohen, btw).
Because not only have other studies shown that focused breaks of daydreaming at work are great for creatives everywhere.
And because of that that the Go!,Go!,Go! formula of workplace productivity might be missing out on some big gains in innovation & problem-solving,
But the people who instinctively need “Mental Health Breaks” when they’re overworked might really be onto something.
Because, this new study actually shows, people really do get better at things when they get a break, too!
Specifically, they found a neurological basis for what’s previously been called “Wakeful Rest”, or “Background Processing”.
So, the researchers at the NIH stroke & disorders unit decided to test this with 33 male & female subjects.
All of them were right-handed for consistency, and they were given a memorization and manual dexterity test to learn & perform.
This was to play a sequence of 5 numbers in the right order with the correct fingers.
They had to do this as many times as possible for 10 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds before the next run.
The subjects went through the performance 36 times in a row, while laying down in MRI and MEG type brain-scanners.
And then a miracle occurred.
Because it was one thing for the researchers to observe heightened brain-activity in the time periods while the subjects were doing their work as newbies,
But then when the subjects took breaks in-between performing the tasks, but stayed in the brain-scanner,
Their brains were found to automatically keep going over the same patterns of processing.
And this wasn’t just some kind of accidental “echo” of sorts.
The subjects brains repeated the same exact patterns, about 20x faster than they had even while learning & performing the task.
They would often replay the exercise as much as 25 times in the 10 second rest in-between trials,
Less than 1/2 second for each repetition of the pattern.
This rest-learning clearly paid off, as the subjects got dramatically better at the task right up until about the 11th trial on average, before their speed plateaued.
Still more interesting than that is after the training ended, activity on breaks went down to 1/3 of that 20x speed.
So the brain was still working on the skill, just much slower down to 6.6x as fast as the performance-time instead of 20x.
Also, another reason to keep yourself sharp is that “Iron sharpens iron”.
The subjects whose brains had the most activity during the rest-time between test-runs were the ones who retained the abilities the best.
Now, just because these tests had activity concentrated in the sensorimotor regions of the brain does not mean that learning new skills with the benefit of breaks is limited to just that type of tasks and no others.
This is encouragingly so, because there was much more activity in the Hippocampus (memory center of the brain) than even the researchers had predicted.
So because Dr. Cohen’s team found almost all of the learning seemed to take place not -during- the trials, but -in between- them.
This type of research may almost completely rewrite the way people might approach learning anything.
For example, if you’re trying to learn a musical instrument, the nonstop drill-into-your-head approach might not even work that well in-comparison.
It seems to apply to just about any area of instruction that involves what scientists call “Procedural Learning”.
Even though scientists have had inklings of rest’s importance at times before, they may not have known how much.
And their results may make it Much easier for the rest of us to learn new skills.
There is already evidence that people who learn to play a musical instrument or speak more than one language stave off cognitive-decline and dementia better than the average person.
Still further out, there are other studies that suggest education might even extend your lifespan in some type of roughly: 1 extra year for every year of education equation.
And even though Dr. Cohen’s team showed that more than 90 percent of learning appears to take place in the rest periods and not during sleep,
The subjects who had the best sleep also did the best on the tests, so don’t abandon that healthy habit for alternating-practice just yet!
Now what we don’t know right now is the optimum rest-time for each type of learning and if it has to be equal to exercise time.
Do college lectures that are 1 hour long require 1 hour of “wakeful rest” before they can be absorbed,
Or is it less or more, depending on the subject?
Maybe the next study will tell us the answer!
So either way, the NIH/NDS team’s results are a great example & rough prescription for us.
And you can also say that not only are you improving during your breaks, but depending on the relevance/work and if you’re daydreaming,
You might also be a smarter-than-average person who is creatively problem-solving through that “background processing” as you go.
So get out there & take some breaks in-between work to supercharge your own learning with the subconscious power of “wakeful rest”!
More Coverage: Nature – Genome-wide meta-analysis associates HLA-DQA1/DRB1 and LPA and lifestyle factors with human longevity | PubMed – Optimising retention through multiple study opportunities over days: The benefit of an expanding schedule of repetitions
Source Study: Cell Reports – Consolidation of human skill linked to waking hippocampo-neocortical replay