OK, listen up. What you’re about to read could dramatically impact your rate of progress on guitar, or on anything else you may want to learn. So, you better pay attention.
If you’re working hard at improving your guitar playing skills, I’m pretty sure you’d love for those results to come along a little bit quicker. If possible, a whole lot quicker. We all have experienced periods when despite our best efforts, improvements seem to come at a snail’s pace or not at all.
I know exactly how that feels. Which is why I’ve searched high and low for decades to find any possible way to speed up the process. And I’m happy to say that I’ve finally stumbled on something which can only be called revolutionary, so dramatic are its effects.
How would you like to have access to a ‘magical’ supplement that:
Too good to be true?
Well, I’ll be honest with you. I did lie on one thing: the fact that this magical supplement is ‘new and revolutionary’, since it’s anything but ‘new’. However, all the benefits listed above are true and 100% scientifically proven.
So, what exactly is this ‘magical supplement’? The answer might surprise you. It’s called:
GETTING ENOUGH QUALITY SLEEP!
Yes, you read that right. Simply getting your full quota of quality, restful sleep each and every night will deliver all the benefits listed above. And you can start reaping those benefits right now, right from tomorrow morning. Especially if you’re one of the huge number of people in this world constantly battling against chronic sleep deprivation.
If, like many people, you’ve been brainwashed into thinking that getting by with very little sleep is somehow ‘heroic’, you better think again.
We’ve probably all met the ‘high achieving wannabe’ who proudly declares “sleep is a waste of time and I don’t need it!” Maybe we’ve been that guy ourselves too at some point in life.
Well, if the results given by hundreds upon hundreds of scientific studies are anything to go by, intentionally depriving yourself of sleep is pretty much the stupidest and most damaging thing you could do to yourself. I’m not exaggerating.
Chronic lack of sleep has been proven to dramatically increase the incidence of all major causes of mortality and morbidity. This includes vastly increased chances of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, as well as greatly increased chances of getting Alzheimer’s, of strokes, of dying in a traffic or work-related accident, and even of all types of cancer!
Being deprived of sleep wreaks absolute havoc on our mental and physical health, make no mistake about it.
Conversely, making sure that you get enough quality sleep every night and that you feel fully rested every morning, will dramatically overhaul your well being from all aspects.
As if all the health benefits already mentioned weren’t enough, good sleep also has a direct and practically instant benefit on improving all types of learning and skill acquisition, something which should be immensely interesting to us musicians.
It turns out that sleep is much more than simply the absence of wakefulness and consciousness. It’s a very dynamic state where the brain and body get to regenerate and strengthen themselves.
Without going into too much scientific detail, here’s what happens in a nutshell.
Whenever we try to learn or practice something while awake, the brain stores the input in an area called the hippocampus, which basically functions as a short term ‘cache memory’ of sorts. The amount of input this ‘cache memory’ can store is limited, and it can only be stored for a very short time (in the order of a few hours.)
So, how can our brain keep learning and improving if that is the case? Glad you asked, because it’s actually during sleep that the magic happens. During a particular stage of deep sleep, specifically stage 2 of NREM (‘Non Rapid Eye Movement’) sleep, the brain performs something that’s truly amazing. It starts producing a series of high-speed electrical pulses, called ‘sleep spindles’, which move from the hippocampus – the ‘short term memory’ area – and towards the neo cortex part of the brain, which has a vastly larger storage capacity. Essentially, during this stage of sleep, our brain takes whatever input we have stored in short term memory that day and moves it into more permanent memory, just as you would transfer the contents of a small memory thumb drive into a large hard drive!
This beautiful mechanism serves two vital functions simultaneously: it helps consolidate and ‘future proof’ what we have learned during the day, and also clears space in the hippocampus so that it will be ready and receptive for learning new stuff the next day.
In the case of motor skill learning, the ‘sleep spindles’ act to move ‘data’ from the hippocampus and into specific areas of the motor cortex which are able to function at a level deeper than consciousness. This is what allows us to ingrain skills deeply enough that they become ‘second nature’ and automatic, so that we can perform them effortlessly and without conscious thought whenever we need them. Yes, you have your sleep spindles to thank for that.
However, there is one extremely important thing to know so as to take full advantage of this beautiful mechanism.
As explained above, the crucial factor needed to perform this consolidation of learning is the generation of enough sleep spindle impulses in the brain. As it turns out, our brain seems to reserve a specific part of our sleep for performing this vital function:
The last two hours in an eight-hour sleep period!
That’s right. The major bulk of fact-based as well as skill-based learning not only occurs while we’re sleeping, but also and almost exclusively after the sixth hour of sleep. So, if you’re one of those folks who pride themselves on sleeping less than six hours a night because you’re ‘so busy’, the reality is that you’ve been flushing down the toilet all the hardearned learning and skill improvement which could have been yours if you only slept as much as you should!
The first sleep period after a practice or training session seems to be particularly crucial for retaining and consolidating knowledge and skills. Tests have shown that if you don’t get enough quality sleep the night right after a practice session – that is, while the new skills you practiced are still precariously stored in short term memory – then you will lose most, if not all, of the benefit you could have had from that practice session. Ouch!
Good sleep the night before a training session is also crucial however, since we want to approach learning with a clear and refreshed hippocampus. Before our brain can consolidate anything into permanent memory, it first needs to absorb it securely enough into short term memory.
Bottomline: you cannot short change yourself on sleep anywhere without paying a price.
It has been said for ages that no good things will come to those who sleep, or words to that effect. Well, now you know why that piece of ‘wisdom’ is completely wrong.
In fact, you owe it to yourself to get enough quality sleep every night, if you really want to maximize your health and your ability to learn and improve your skills. Those late nights at the pub with the guys or staying awake ‘just a little longer’ to browse the Internet or watch another episode of your favourite TV series, are not just some harmless fun. They are actually robbing you of your health, knowledge and skill!
The old maxim that ‘practice makes perfect’ needs to be significantly upgraded. A much more accurate version is ‘perfect practice, followed by a night of perfect sleep.’ I trust that you will sleep easy and with a clear conscience tonight. References: ‘Why we sleep’, by Dr Matthew Walker.
About the author: Aldo Chircop is a guitarist, composer, producer and guitar teacher based in Malta. He is president and chief instructor of Malta Rock Academy, home of the best blues, metal and rock guitar lessons in Malta