It’s not news that sleep is tied to learning — even a 90-minute nap can significantly help boost your brain power — but if you want to cement new knowledge in your brain, recent sleep research demonstrates that a good night’s sleep shortly following your studies has a significant impact on your ability to retain information.
The study in question asked participants to memorize related word pairs (e.g., circus – clown) and unrelated word pairs (e.g., cactus – brick). Some participants learned the words at 9am, some at 9pm. The 9pm crowd went to sleep shortly after learning the words. The 9am crowd did not.
The results: Sleep made no difference when participants were asked to recall the related words, but when participants were asked to recall unrelated word pairs, the 9pm group — the group that slept right after learning — did significantly better. So where your brain already has a strong semantic roadmap for learning (as is the case with the related word pairs), sleep doesn’t have a major effect. Where it’s forming new connections, sleep makes all the difference.
Stick that in your mind pipe next time you need to do some serious cramming.
A simple technique dramatically improved the memory recall of Harvard Medical School students. Try it for yourself!
Turning a medical student into a doctor takes a whole lot of knowledge. B. Price Kerfoot, an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, was frustrated at how much knowledge his students seemed to forget over the course of their education. He suspected this was because they engaged in what he calls “binge and purge” learning: They stuffed themselves full of facts and then spewed them out at test time. Research in cognitive science shows that this is a very poor way to retain information, as Kerfoot discovered when he went looking in the academic literature for answers. But he also stumbled upon a method that really is effective, called spaced repetition. Kerfoot devised a simple digital tool to make engaging in spaced repetition almost effortless. In more than two dozen studies published over the past five years, he has demonstrated that spaced repetition works, increasing knowledge retention by up to 50 percent. And Kerfoot’s method is easily adapted by anyone who needs to learn and remember, not just those pursuing MDs.
For most of you, it was relatively easy to sail through college. Good grades came easily, and mastering the subject material in your classes seemed completely realistic. Although it was years ago, I remember vividly the first month of medical school when the study methods I had used in college did not seem to work any longer. I barely passed my first test in embryology. The amount of material we had to learn seemed insurmountable. Not only was I expected to know what was in the lectures but also the material in the texts, which I would have to teach myself. I was not quite sure there were enough hours in the day to learn it all.
Early in my medical school education, the dean for preclinical years made an announcement that we should all prepare ourselves for this inevitable fact: No matter how hard we tried, we would never be able to learn everything we were expected to know. It was difficult to process his statement, but as time went on, I began to realize that he was correct. Several all-nighters later, I realized that my friends who went to bed at a reasonable time were doing just as well as me on exams. Either I was doing something wrong or there really was a fixed amount of information a person could process at one time.
So what is the best way to study?
Remember when you were a premedical student in college? It seems like a century ago for many of us who have just completed the first year of medical school. It feels that way because our lives have changed dramatically. Normal life seems to have vanished, and suddenly, 24 hours in a day are not enough to get through the enormous volumes of information that we are expected to learn for every exam. It seems virtually impossible. We barely have time to eat or sleep.
Medical school is not the end of the world. Take it from us, students who have been there, when we say that medical school is what you make of it. Do not let medicine define you; instead, you should tailor medicine to your lifestyle. Otherwise, you might become overwhelmed by the demands of your new life and lose the sense of why you chose medicine in the first place.
How do you survive medical school?