Should you Sleep on it? (Ten Ways to use Brain Based Research in Training #7)

When is a good time to learn something and should you sleep on it to enhance the learning? It seems that it depends on what you’re learning and it could matter who is doing the learning.
Procedural learning (practicing skills you do rather than talk about) seems to be most effective just before sleep.

Research reported on the British Psychological Society Research Digest suggest that when you learn skills (stuff you do) sleeping on it enhances the learning. These types of activities use what is termed ‘Procedural memory’ and it’s thought that we may dream about the skills and effectively practice them in our sleep.

On the other hand learning facts or information – stuff we talk about – which is dependent on “declarative memory”, seems to be more effective if the learning starts in the afternoon, about seven and a half hours before sleep. The evidence from this research is slightly less robust.
However, what does it mean if you are learning something or are designing effective training. Perhaps training courses could happen later in the day with theory first ie in the afternoon and then skills practice in the evening. Does this mean there is a benefit to residential training workshops with activities in the evenings?
It probably depends on what people are learning. Certainly it could be useful information to share with learners so they know when it might be most effective for them to practice skills and when to take in theory.
You might also consider introducing timed prework and follow up work.
This research on the skills learning was done with teenagers and students so is another reason to beware of generalizing research. There’s evidence that older learners may have better memory function in the mornings so knowing your audience could be key.

To find out more about our How to be a Brain Friendly Trainer open workshop in April, visit our website at

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