When you try to memorize something new, it is normal to assume that the more effort you put into it, the better it will go.
However, what you need may just be a break in which you do nothing. Literally.
Turn off the light, relax and enjoy 10 or 15 minutes of tranquility and you will see that you will remember much better what you just learned that if you had tried to use that time more productively.
While we know that we should not accelerate when we study, new research indicates that we should aim for “minimal interference” during these breaks, deliberately avoiding any activity that may affect the delicate task of forming memories.
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So nothing to look at the cell phone, emails or surf the internet. You have to give your brain the opportunity to recharge batteries without distractions.
This discovery is encouraging for people with amnesia or some forms of dementia since it presents a way to release a previously unknown latent learning ability.
The benefits of rest to improve memory were documented for the first time in 1900 by the German psychologist Georg Elias Müller and his student Alfons Pilzecker.
In one of their several experiments, Müller and Pilzecker asked participants to learn a list of meaningless syllables.
It was shown that resting improves memory in people of different ages.
One half of the group was asked to immediately learn the contents of a second list, while the other was able to rest six minutes before beginning the task.
When both groups were examined an hour and a half later, the two showed remarkable differences.
Those who made the parenthesis remembered about 50% of the list, while the others only 28%.
This indicates that our newly learned information memory is especially fragile and has barely been encoded, which is susceptible to interference if we receive new information.
Benefits of rest
The broader implications of this finding became evident only in the early 2000s, thanks to a study by Sergio Della Sala, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, and Nelson Cowan of the University of Missouri, in the United States. United.
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The team wanted to discover whether reducing interference could serve to improve the memory of patients who had suffered neurological damage.
Using a technique similar to that of Müller and Pilzecker, they offered the participants a list of 15 words and put them to the test 10 minutes later.
The idea is to relax and let the mind wander.
Some subjects were kept busy with cognitive tests and others were left to rest in a dark room.
And the impact of a mild intervention was much deeper than expected.
Those who rested tripled the number of words they remembered -from 14% to 49 %-, obtaining a result similar to that of people without neurological damage.
Della Sala and a Cowan student, Michaela Dewar, from the University of Heriot-Wattt, repeated these studies in very different contexts.
They discovered that in healthy patients, short rest periods can also improve spatial memory.
For example, rest helped them remember the site from different geographical locations in a virtual reality environment.
The memory, in addition, remained for a week after having learned it.
The benefit turned out to be the same for both young people and older people.
In all cases, the researchers simply asked the participants to sit in a dimly lit room, without cell phones or similar distractions.
Most devoted themselves to resting and letting their minds wander.
Formation of memories
The exact mechanism by which rest seems to be beneficial is not known.
But some of its keys lie in how memories are formed.
It is known that initially, when they are encoded, they go through a period of consolidation, and they are stored in a site for the long term.
During the break, you should not get distracted by your cell phone or look at emails. You simply have to rest to help your memory consolidate the new knowledge acquired.
It used to be thought that this happened mainly during sleep, when the communication between the hippocampus – the place where memories first formed – intensified and the cerebral cortex, a process that could strengthen the new neuronal connections that are needed most. late to call those memories.
This intensification of nocturnal activity may explain why we generally learn better before we go to sleep.
But a 2010 study by Lila Davachi, a researcher at the University of New York, USA, discovered that this was not limited to sleep but also occurred when we were awake, resting.
The brain may take advantage of rest moments to consolidate what it recently learned, and reducing stimulation at this time helps.
And it’s possible that the neurological damage makes the brain particularly vulnerable to interference after learning something new, and therefore taking a break proved to be particularly important for stroke survivors or for people with Alzheimer’s.
Rest helps your mind recharge the batteries.
But beyond the clinical benefits for this class of patients, experts agree that scheduling regular rest periods without distractions can help us all remember new material more firmly.
In the age of information overload, it is good to remember that our smartphones are not the only thing that needs to be recharged at regular intervals.
Our mind, clearly, also needs it.