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Solve…Then Sleep

A new study found that practicing math before bed may help people remember it later.
A child lies on a cloud reading a math book with a thought bubble with math problems and a moon behind him.
© Evgenii Naumov/Dreamstime.com

Bedtime may be the best time to learn and remember math! In a new study, scientists found that people who learned new math problems just before going to sleep remember them better than if they learned them during the day.

For the study, scientists in the United Kingdom asked 77 adults to learn multiplication problems at two different times of the day. They learned some problems during the day and other problems just before bed. About 10 and a half hours after the adults learned the problems, scientists tested them. The adults remembered the bedtime problems better.

The results of the study are similar to other studies that have been done with children. In 2015, scientists had parents of first graders tell their kids bedtime stories with a math theme. The scientists found that those first graders had higher math scores during that school year than first graders who didn’t hear math bedtime stories. 

Why does bedtime learning seem to be effective? Scientists aren’t sure. They know that the brain makes certain connections during sleep that help us lock in what we’ve learned. But it’s also possible that when we learn something during the day, it becomes harder to remember as we learn other new things later that day. When we’re asleep, our brains have nothing to lock in except what we just learned before bed.

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Did You Know?

Two hands hold a list of odd numbers up to 15 in a notebook and a speech bubble says “That’s odd.”
© denis08131/stock.adobe.com, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

It’s the perfect time for a math fact!

When written in English, every odd number contains the letter e.

Bedtime Is Cleanup Time

As a girl sleeps, her brain holds a lock and key and a broom.
© Olga Shcherba, Xsviatx/Dreamstime.com, © StockVector/stock.adobe.com; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

How does sleep help us lock in memories? It’s all in our brains.

When you learn something new, at home or at school, the information gets stored in a part of your brain called the hippocampus. But it can’t stay there forever. Like a smartphone or a kitchen cabinet, the hippocampus has only a limited amount of space. So if you learn more than it can hold, you’re not going to remember it. Or you’ll forget something else you learned that day as your hippocampus makes space for the new information.

When you sleep, your brain does a big cleanup. It gets rid of memories you don’t need, like which shirt you wore two days ago. The important stuff gets locked into a different part of your brain, where it can stay. And the next morning, the hippocampus has space for new information.

What’s in Our Noodles?

An MRI image of a human brain inside the skull
© highwaystarz/stock.adobe.com
There’s still a lot about the brain that scientists don’t understand. What do they know? Find out at Britannica!
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Word of the Day

cerebral

Part of speech:
adjective
Definition:
: of or relating to the brain
Definitions provided by
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