Sleep Research Questions

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Lux Graves

Our research team has made progress on the first step of our Sleep & Learning research synthesis pilot - distill a list of relevant and actionable questions.

As compared to the generic advice to "get more sleep" or "sleep 8ish hours", this list of research questions is a much more nuanced and practical approach to parsing and synthesizing the sleep science literature. Specifically, knowing the answers to even a third of these questions could notably change how I orient to and prioritize my own sleep routine to maximize learning. Exciting!

Everyone on the team pitched in their respective questions and here is the master list of what we came up with. I loosely bucketed these into categories, though there is potential overlap between groupings for any specific article.

Partial sleep deprivation or deviation

These questions focused on the the impact of less sleep or offset sleep patterns on learning.

  • What is the decay rate on learning from an hour loss of sleep?
  • What are the quantitative dynamics of the effects of deviations from (individually) optimal sleep patterns on learning?
  • Under what conditions might sleep deprivation enhance aspects of learning?

Incidentally, here is a fascinating single-subject experiment from Alexey Guzey (on himself) with partial sleep deprivation and cognitive performance tests (conclusion: no impairment from 4 hours a night for 2 weeks)


These questions focused on applying sleep themes and averages to the individual.

  • How much do I need to sleep to maximize my learning potential?
  • How do learning-related sleep requirements change at different life stages?
    --> Related: How much do my children need to sleep to empower their best learning?
  • What is the nature of individual differences in the effects of sleep on learning?
    --> Related: What are the key individual differences that influence sleep and learning?
  • What are the most important and reliable leading indicators of the effects of sleep variations on learning that are available to laypeople?

Sleep + learning mechanics

These questions relate to either the mechanics of sleep or the mechanics of learning and how the two relate.

  • How does afternoon nap affect learning throughout the day?
    --> Is napping throughout the day and night an effective substitute for total overnight sleep hours measured by impact on learning?
    --> How might the timing of daytime naps be optimized if we use naps as a compensatory strategy?
  • How might my sleeping position (i.e. face up, side) affect later learning after waking?
  • What is the ideal time that you should learn before sleep to retain most information?
  • What level of learning cognitive load should you do before sleeping and when?
  • How do alarm-triggered vs. natural wake ups compare in terms of their impact on learning?
  • What pre-sleep or post-wake-up rituals can we engage in to enhance learning?
  • How does the impact of sleep on learning vary by type of information/learning?
  • Can individual memories be reactivated and strengthened during sleep? (i.e. using auditory and olfactory cues)
  • Are there any consequences or advantages to being a monophasic, biphasic or polyphsic sleeper? Is there an optimal sleep pattern?
  • Can we learn new material while we are sleep? Distinct from consolidating / encoding what we learned while we are awake?
  • What aspects of learning are impacted by sleep?
  • How does sleep differentially consolidate different kinds of learning (procedural, factual, conceptual, ... ?)
  • How do the stress hormones, which are affected by sleep, fit into the bigger picture of learning?

Out of scope backlog

These questions were all interesting but ultimately out of scope for our focus on sleep & learning. They have been added to a backlog for future inquiry at a later time.

Improving sleep

These questions focus on improving sleep.

  • How can I motivate myself to make sleep a priority?
  • How does physical exercise fit into the picture - since cardio exercise is known to facilitate sleep, if timed appropriately, can it be used to establish a "virtuous cycle"? 
  • What are the most significant "low hanging fruit" (i.e. low effort, high yield) interventions to improve sleep quality?
  • How is sleep debt payable?

Sleep + rest

These questions focus on the relationship of rest and sleep. Rest is a superset of activities that includes, but is not limited to, sleep.

  • How do restful activities impact sleep?
  • What is the relationship between creativity and rest?
  • What are some correlations between sleep, rest, and getting into the state of flow?


This is the catchall bucket for the remaining questions that didn't quite fit anywhere else.

  • What correlation is there between one’s commitments and sleep?
  • What impact does the existence of our market economy have on the quality of our sleep?
  • What is the significance of social ritual and individual entrainment in establishing Circadian rhythms?
  • Are there any long term consequences of consistently using melatonin sleep aid supplements?


Do any of these questions trigger any inquiries about sleep and learning for you? Drop me a note and let me know and I will add them to our inquiry or backlog.

Next up, we'll vote on the top 5 questions to actively focus on then start parsing academic articles for our active questions. I'll post another update after we have parsed our first dozen or so articles.

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