A recent study conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Freiburg’s Medical Centre has revealed that sleep is more important and cannot be replaced by rest.
The study stated that sleep is more than rest for improving performance and cannot be substituted by rest during intensive phases of performance demands required at work or in everyday life.
The study which provides important information for planning periods of intensive learning or training, remarks that sleep after training enhances performance on multiple tasks in comparison to equal periods of active wakefulness. However, it is yet to be understood whether this performance improvement is due to an active refinement of neural connections or merely due to the absence of novel input during sleep.
Speaking about the outcome of the study, Prof. Christoph Nissen, the lead of the research at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg’s Medical Centre responded by saying that “Sleep is irreplaceable for the recovery of the brain. It cannot be replaced by periods of rest for improved performance. The state of the brain during sleep is unique.”
Prof. Nissen, who now works at the University of Bern, Switzerland had explored the notion that sleep has a dual function for the brain: Unused connections are weakened and relevant connections are strengthened during his earlier studies with the team.
Researchers conducted a visual learning experiment with 66 participants where all participants were trained in distinguishing certain patterns.
While one group of individuals were kept awake by watching videos or playing table tennis, another was allowed to sleep for one hour. A third group was kept awake, but in a darkened room without external stimuli and under controlled sleep laboratory conditions.
Findings of the Research
The study revealed that the group which slept for one hour performed significantly better than the ones who stayed awake, watching videos or playing table tennis as well as the one which was deprived of any external stimuli.
The improvement in performance was linked to typical deep-sleep activity of the brain, which has an important function for the connectivity of nerve cells.
Prof. Dieter Riemann, co-study leader and head of the sleep laboratory at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg’s Medical Centre observed that “This shows that it is sleep itself that makes the difference.”
The team of researchers had taken special care to ensure that participants are not influenced by fatigue and other general factors during the research. The team has published its findings in the journal SLEEP.