Researchers at the university of Edinburgh in Scotland wanted to find out how taking short study breaks after learning something would influence the memorisation process. They asked elderly individuals to listen to two stories, and to try to remember the details. The first story was followed by a short rest in a darkened room, the second with a distracting activity.
In the study, published in Psychological Science, subjects remembered the details of the story just before the short rest, and the group that were allowed a short rest period in a darkened room still remembered the details of the story a week later.
Rest allows the facts to sink in
The researchers suspect that the initial learning sessions are only the start of the process. Rest after the initial exposure, particularly a good night’s sleep, seems to allow further neural processes to occur, according to Michaela Dewar, the study’s author.
We sometimes think that heavy learning sessions, i.e. continuous cramming of facts (before an exam, for instance) is the secret to success. It would be well to keep in mind that cramming is only part of the story. We need to give the brain a chance to reorganise the facts it has absorbed, and create new neural networks with other facts and memories. Short study breaks, it seems, fit the bill nicely in this respect. The brain needs time to digest the facts, you might say. And like any other digestion process, it’s best not rushed.
Cram, by all means, if you need to. But allow yourself sufficient short study breaks, and get a good night’s sleep too. That way, your cramming will actually prove to be worth all your hard work. And you won’t be left with a nasty case of indigestion!
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