The Importance of Rest in the Learning Process

20 December, 2020
Sleep and rest are essential functions when it comes to optimizing the cognitive processes that take place in our minds in order to learn everything we set out to learn. Today, we'll tell you more about the importance of rest in the learning process.

On the one hand, resting implies sleeping well, which is a vital and necessary bodily function, both physically and mentally. On the other hand, resting implies that, in short periods of time –  between our daily activities, family or work – we can relax our mind and body without doing any kind of physical or mental activity. With that in mind, we want to talk specifically about the importance of rest in the learning process.

What’s sleep?

Sleeping is a biological process that refers both to the act of sleeping and to the mental activity that takes place during that period. Its function has to do with recovering energy that we spend during the day, with cerebral repair (neuronal and the storage and elimination of memories), and of body tissue. Additionally, it’s crucial when it comes to regulating our body temperature in order to facilitate metabolic and hormonal processes.

There are two alternating stages that characterize sleep and that consist of different phases. These stages are non-REM or NREM and REM. The NREM state is characterized by not having rapid eye movements and consists of four different phases. The phase of numbness, light sleep, a transition to deep sleep, and the phase we know as “Delta” or deep sleep. Experts consider this last phase to be essential to good rest.

At the same time, the REM sleep state is characterized by rapid eye movements and is composed of a single phase. This state is also known as “paradoxical” or “unsynchronized” sleep, and has a high brain activity similar to wakefulness. It’s during this REM state that we dream; it occupies 25% of our total sleep and usually occurs at the end of the night.

The Importance of Rest in the Learning Process


Sleep cycle

People progress differently through the phases of sleep, and each phase varies in time from person to person. Generally speaking, a person goes through 4 to 6 cycles over 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Each cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes.

Thus, an adult enters the state of NREM sleep with its respective phases from 1 to 4, which lasts about an hour. Then, a reverse path is produced, returning to phases 3 and 2 of the NREM state, and then entering the REM state phase, which lasts about 10 minutes, approximately. Thus, this sequence is what makes up a sleep cycle.

It should also be noted that, with each cycle, phases 3 and 4 of the NREM state are shortened and the REM state is lengthened. In addition, in newborns, the REM sleep phase is longer, while in the elderly, it’s shorter.

Sleep needs and the effects of not resting well

Depending on their age, people need more or less sleep. Thus, newborns should sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day; preschool and school-aged children between 11 or 12 hoursand adolescents about 9 hours a day. In the adult stage and in maturity, from 25 years of age onward, people need between 6 and 8 daily hours of sleep.

Age, however, isn’t the only factor that determines how much sleep a person needs. These needs also vary according to their activity – both physical or intellectual. But, in general terms, sleep and rest are vital to our health and livelihood, as well as our ability to learn. And, when we don’t get enough sleep, it can affect our moods by causing states of:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Moodiness
  • Nervousness
  • Fatigue
  • Slow thinking

What’s more, experts have linked lack of sleep to the increased risk of diseases such as the following:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Heart diseases or strokes

Importance of rest in the learning process

Learning means to acquire knowledge of something through study, exercise, or experience. To do this, our brains and neurons must go into motion and be able to carry out a number of different mental procedures, such as:

  • Understanding
  • Memorization
  • Logical reasoning
  • Abstraction
  • Deduction

So, if we can’t get sleep and rest well during the night, our learning capacity will decrease.

Studies and research indicate that it’s necessary to rest in order to learn. This is because during REM sleep is when the restoration of cognitive function occurs. That’s to say, it’s during this period of rest when functions such as memory and concentration are repaired and recovered, and recent memories are fixed. Therefore, rest improves our ability to learn.

The Importance of Rest in the Learning Process

In addition, as we’ve said, in order to learn, sleeping well at night isn’t enough. Throughout the day, we should also enjoy short periods of rest to complement the sleep we get at night. This is because our attention and concentration capacity is limited and we must alternate learning intervals with disconnection and relaxation intervals.

Ideally, then, for every 45 minutes of concentration, adults should take 10 minutes to rest. And, in the case of children, periods of concentration should be shorter and periods of rest should be longer, both in length as well as in frequency.

Importance of rest: Better and more learning

So, as you can see, rest is essential to learning because, if we sleep well and take moments to relax throughout our day, we’ll manage to do the following:

  • Refresh and improve our memory
  • Concentrate much more
  • Have a better mood and sense of humor
  • Understand better what we read
  • Be more productive, efficient and effective
  • Improve our predisposition and relationship with others
  • Have more mental and physical energy
  • Feel a greater sense of control over things

In short, the importance of rest is for our body to function at its best, for our well-being to be complete, and for us to learn something new every day. When we sleep deeply and when we relax at certain times throughout the day, it’s as if we were passing by the gas station to refuel. In other words, we provide our body and mind with the indispensable energy it needs to face the challenges of everyday life!