The (Literally) Effortless Way to Learn Faster and Improve Your Memory, Backed by Science



We all have things we need to remember. A pitch. A presentation. Material for a test. 

So you study. You read and re-read. And highlight. And re-read again. You devote what at least feel like endless hours into the pursuit of knowledge and recall. 

And even if you do manage to remember what you needed to remember, still: The process of learning took way too much time and effort.

If that sounds like you — because it certainly sounds like me — science has the solution. According to a 2016 study published in Psychological Science, people who studied before bed, then slept, then did a quick review the next morning not only spent less time studying, they also increased their long-term retention by 50 percent.

Why? One factor is what psychologists call sleep-dependent memory consolidation: “Converging evidence, from the molecular to the phenomenological, leaves little doubt that offline memory reprocessing during sleep is an important component of how our memories are formed and ultimately shaped.”

Or in non researcher-speak, sleeping on it not only helps your brain file away what you’ve learned, it makes that information easier to access. 

And then there’s the impact of creating an interval between learning sessions. Most of us learn by blocking, focusing on one subject, one task, or one skill during a learning session.

Blocking is how we’ve been conditioned to learn, if only because those learning sessions were easier for a school or organization to schedule and administer: Learn one thing, exhibit some level of proficiency, move on to the next. 

Interleaving involves studying related concepts or skills in parallel. As it turns out, research shows interleaving is a much more effective way to train your brain (and your motor skills.) 

But here’s the thing: The benefits of interleaving can also result from inserting a good night’s sleep between learning sessions. As the researchers write:

We found that interleaving sleep between learning sessions not only reduced the amount of practice needed by half but also ensured much better long-term retention.

Sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but sleeping between two learning sessions is a better strategy.

Try it. Say you want to nail a presentation. Spend some time the night before going through your slides.

But don’t just rehearse. Quiz yourself. A number of studies show that self-testing is an extremely effective way to speed up the learning process.

Quiz yourself on what comes after your intro. Quiz yourself by listing the three main points you want to make. Quiz yourself on sales estimates. Or key initiatives. Or results from competitive analysis. Quizzing yourself forces you to practice retrieving information, making it stickier and easier to recall. 

Just don’t get stressed if you fail some of those “tests”; oddly enough, the fact you don’t remember something the first time automatically makes it stand out — and a lot easier to remember the next time.

Then get a good night’s sleep, and do a quick review in the morning.

Do that, and science says you’ll not only spend less time learning.

You’ll remember a lot more, too.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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