How does poor sleep affect our ability to learn? Study investigates

Most of us know that a good night’s sleep is key for happiness and productivity, and that conversely, a night of poor sleep can have negative effects on our performance during the day. But a new study manages to find precisely the brain area responsible for learning new skills and shows how it can be affected by poor sleep quality.

A team of researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, both in Switzerland, set out to examine the effect of a disturbed deep sleep phase on the brain’s ability to learn new things.

More specifically, the new study – published in the journal Nature Communications – looks at the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to the stimuli that it receives from the environment, or neuroplasticity, in the motor cortex and how it is affected by deep sleep.

The motor cortex is the brain area responsible for developing and controlling motor skills, and the deep sleep phase – also called slow-wave sleep – is key for memory formation and processing, as well as for helping the brain to restore itself after a day of activity.