Spotlight for Career Services Professionals, March 2, 2011
When it comes to the science of how the human brain works, there is a great deal yet to be discovered. As John Medina points out, we don’t even know how brain function allows us to pick up a pencil and write our own names. But we do know about what Medina calls the performance envelope.
“The human brain appears to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor setting, while in nearly constant motion,” says Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and author of the New York Times bestseller "Brain Rules.”
It also, Medina adds, functions much better when rested.
“You need to have a clear head on a consistent basis,” he says.
To highlight this, Medina refers to a study in which math graduate students were given a problem and told the way to solve it.
“It was a bonehead solution,” Medina says. “Unbeknownst to students, there was a much more elegant way to solve the math problem.”
The researchers, who wanted to study the effect of sleep on cognition, broke the students into two groups, Group A and Group B. With 12 hours to solve the problem, members of Group A remained awake, while members of Group B slept for eight hours. The results? Twenty percent of Group A members and 65 percent of Group B members discovered and applied the “better” way to solve the problem.
“There were some very strong conclusions about the effect of sleep on cognitive function,” Medina says.
Sleep is deeply connected with learning. As Medina points out, we accumulate a lot of information during each day.
“When we go to sleep, we begin to replay what we learned thousands of times and create a massive record of it,” he explains. “If we don’t get a good night’s sleep, we don’t get that massive record and we don’t learn. For the longest time, we didn’t know why we needed to sleep. Now we know: We need to sleep in order to learn.”
Getting a good night’s sleep is particularly important for college students, Medina says, because what students do in college—from the grades they get to their selections of courses, majors, and, ultimately, jobs—can have a profound impact on the rest of their lives.
“If students have a regular sleep cycle, they will be able to optimize their brain power and be at peak performance so they can better function throughout all that they go through and the decisions they make during their college careers,” Medina says.
John Medina will be a keynote speaker during the NACE 2011 Conference & Expo.