It has been known for years that taking short naps in between your study sessions can sharpen your memory and hence make it easier to remember class material. But why does sleeping have such an effect on your ability to remember?
The conversion of new information to long-term memory is associated with slow, brain wave activity (also called deep sleep), when sleeping. This is backed by the many recorded cases of patients with impaired memory, who also suffer from insomnia.
This explains why you shouldn’t try to learn new information the same day as an exam, because the likelihood is you won’t retain it, as your brain has not had the chance to convert this knowledge to your long-term memory, in your sleep.
Some studies have now shown that it is possible to make even better use of those unconscious hours, as it is possible to not only log the day’s activities, but also learn new information. This can be done by listening to simple sounds whilst you sleep or even placing certain odours by your bed, so as to establish a connection between the things you have learnt, throughout the day, and said smell.
I thought I would give this a go, so in preparation for my last anatomy exam, I listened to recorded lectures in my sleep. I would say that I felt more confident in my knowledge of the class material and there was a slight rise in my mark, in comparison to the previous exam (from a 78% to an 81%). However, this could be the result of a number of things; more hours of study, a better comprehension of different information, or simply a placebo effect, by which I had more confidence because I expected this method of study to help me learn more easily.
I will have to leave the decision to you. I think this method is worth trying, even if it only gives you slightly more confidence and motivation. For more concrete evidence of it’s success rate, enjoy the following scientific articles.