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The Art of Studying
The importance of sleep and learning, fixing a bad habit
The importance of sleep and learning, fixing a bad habit
The Importance of Sleep for Learning Japanese (or anything else)

We spend so much time sleeping but yet most of us do it wrong. No, this isn’t an advertisement for some sort of space-age bed, although the ones that float with magnets are pretty cool. This is an editorial about how most of you can get more benefits with a some adjustments with your life with some science backing it up. You’ll be able to remember things better, you’ll be more excited to learn, you will have more useful hours in a day and you’ll even be a happier person as a result.

Too Long, Don’t want to read, here’s a summary:

This article is quite lengthy with about 2955 words, I’m certain many of you will want a summary. I basically talk about the different stages of sleep, the importance of it and how you can benefit from having a healthy sleeping cycle. You would quit electronics at around 8PM and wind down to try and sleep between 8:30 and 9PM. You would develop a habit of waking up early like 3:30 AM – 4:30 AM and the results would be as followed: 

You would feel energetic for the day once it becomes a habit. You will develop a stronger immunity, bones, muscles and tissue. You will have a happier outlook on everything. Your memory will increase a lot and your focus and attention to detail will sharpen. There are many other benefits and this lifestyle change will ultimately make you feel awesome like a super hero!

If you’re ready to keep reading the finer details you may do so now, but I strongly recommend you at least give this article a try.

Sleep is meditation, sorta
The purpose of sleep is to sort out your thoughts into a convenient indexed library, self-reflection, relaxation, and to give your body and mind some rest so you can heal. Yes, your body needs to heal, and any physical trainer will tell you to sleep a good number of hours or else you will not recover and only get worse over time.

You wouldn’t workout without sleep, so why study with little sleep?
Realize this, your body needs a lot of sleep to recover from the stress of a workout but what about your brain? It functions as the most important “muscle” (notice the quotes) of your body and you need to keep it in shape! Sure, comparing neurons to muscle fibers is a bit strange but point is simple, you need adequate rest time to improve and your brain is the nexus to all that.

The Science and Cycles of Sleep!

There’s a lot of research in this field for both academic purposes and commercial because companies want to learn how to create pills so you don’t need to sleep and there are a lot of brain related diseases which need a cure. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the human brain, really, almost nothing. But that’s not to say we don’t understand some of what’s going on inside that squishy pink thing.

Sleep Cycles
Let’s begin with the sleep cycles. Your brain goes through sleep cycles which is normal for almost everyone except with those diagnosed with certain medical conditions.  You close your eyes, you clear your thoughts (or attempt to) and you begin to relax. Your breathing starts to slow down and you enter the first stage of sleep.

After a few minutes you relax even further, and your breathing slows down a lot and your body temperature drops. Your body enters a circadian rhythm and activate your sleep drive. You are now fast asleep.

You continue to sleep until you enter a stage called NREM, in this stage you will likely feel really weird if someone woke you up. Your brain now starts operating on your body through maintenance and builds up your muscle, bone density, immune system, regenerates tissues of all kinds and you are ultimately improving yourself.

You continue to do this for about 90 minutes which is when you enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Mind you that you can enter REM before or after 90 minutes, it’s not a hard rule but a general rule of thumb. REM is another crucial part of sleep. REM is a time when your brain is the most active and about 20% of your sleep or roughly 1.5 hours should be REM.  Your dreams in REM are more likely to be remembered as they are likely more intense, but you still have dreams in any other stage of sleep which is contrary to popular belief.

After REM you restart the cycle again and repeat everything until you wake up. Repeating these cycles too often will make you tired and waking up at the wrong cycle will make you feel groggy and may take a few minutes to hours to truly wake up.

REM is theorized to be associated to processing memories, stress, emotions and overall information that you’ve attained. However, this is still speculation debated and there may be more to it than just that. Although if you are that interested in the finer details you should certainly look up science documents relating to it, which is out of the scope of this editorial.

Hormones and light
You are human (I think?) and because of that you are a hunter/gatherer by day and you are expected to go to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when the sun comes up. Well, at least that’s how it was for a long time. You might think like I did in my youthful days that you are a night dweller and you are the complete opposite but that is likely just you convincing to yourself.

You see, we are surrounded by technology. We have LED light bulbs which are really bad for you (incandescent are actually much better), television screens, computer monitors, cell phones and tablets which radiate a lot of light.

Our brain is reactive meaning it reacts based on the stimuli that we get. If our brain sees light what happens? It says “it’s still day-time, let’s keep producing hormones that keep us up” but if it sees darkness it does the opposite and helps you wind down so you can fall asleep.

We also tend to go on YouTube, play games and really amp up our brain at night when in reality we should be winding down and feeling relaxed. We don’t go out and hunt and gather anymore so our bodies have all that excess energy (often times) that want to escape which we sometimes confuse with stress and just stimulate ourselves one way or another to burn it before going to sleep. True, we are loaded with daily stress and anxiety which is nothing compared to the kind of stress and anxiety our ancestors had to bare; but it’s still there and it’s something we have to deal with.

Other Triggers that may harm your sleep
There are many other things that can impede your sleep schedule and patterns. For one, we tend to ignore our need for sleep. We go to bed at midnight and wake up at 4 or 5AM. While this is fine for a different kind of sleep schedule where you take incremental naps during the day, most of us do not do that and we rely on a 6-8 hour sleep schedule (whichever works for you).  Putting off sleep just a bit longer can make the difference between sleeping well and waking up tired. Maybe set a time like 8PM when you stop looking at a bright screen and start winding down and hope for a 8:30 – 9PM sleep schedule?

Routines should be your ritual. A bedroom should be a place of relaxation. Don’t ground children to their bedroom and avoid any kind of entertainment in them. Certainly never argue in a bedroom and make it that “Safe place” for you to enjoy. Kids these days are found to be a lot more sleep deprived than any generation before them. Why? Because they are surrounded by entertainment that stimulates them late at night, they are sneaking a peak at late-night YouTube, play video games and watch anime until 3 in the morning. Sure, anyone can survive this but the long-term health effects are not good. Not only that but children even in their teens are told to go to their bedroom as punishment, but then they MAY subconsciously associate the bedroom with punishment if it happens a lot. This is also not good for deep sleep!

But you’re an adult or teen….
Kids aren’t the only ones without good sleep patterns, adults suffer as well! I could name a very large percentage of people which includes most but really what good does that do for you? Ask yourself this, do you feel like you have enough sleep? Why are you reading this article? Odds are, you are missing sleep and you might wonder how to improve it. We go back to nightly rituals and I don’t mean cast a spell like harry potter, no… Our lives are full of them like waking up taking a shower, eating, drinking coffee, brushing teeth, go to work etc... You have a morning ritual that wakes you up but what about a nightly ritual that puts you to sleep?

Some people will take a bath at night and relax with candles and a good book. Others might turn off their computer at a reasonable time and relax in bed using various means. There are so many things that you can do to relax but the point is that you shouldn’t go from entertainment to “oh, it’s 11PM I need to sleep”. This is what gets most people and why you should reconsider your lifestyle.

Waking up naturally and Breaking Habits
You can sleep and wake up early naturally, without the alarm! If I were to be a doctor and prescribe you anything it wouldn’t be anti-anxiety medicine, sleeping pills or something else that is medicated. Nope! I would start with a healthy diet, no caffeine after lunch, a nightly ritual to sleep, sleeping early and waking up early without an alarm (have a backup alarm just in case though). That’s not to say you should stop taking any medication, please keep using them and consult your doctor for any possible changes with them.

I spent so many years since my early teenage years secretly going to bed at 3 in the morning and waking up at 7 or 8. There was even a time when my hours were the opposite, sleeping at 4am and waking up at noon, it was weird and miserable, and my life felt like it had twisted upside down like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But let me say this, I thought I was a night dwelling otaku but the truth is, I was normal like everyone else, I had just developed a BAD HABBIT and it kept getting worse.

This problem eventually turned into a 2-year ordeal of waking up in the afternoon and doing nothing with myself, I truly was lost and depressed. Don’t let it happen to you and if it already has happened and you want a way out you will need to break the habit just like I have!

It’s hard at first but you can do it!
There’s a saying that habits are made in 21 days and it does hold some truth to it. You have to keep your focus set for the long-run. Once you have made it into a habit, you’ll think nothing of it and keep going.  It’s so easy to go back to your bad habit after a week but it’s not so easy once it has turned into a new habit.

Don’t forget to try it again if you fail and fail again! It often takes more than one attempt to break the habit and you can break it with other people, just make sure that you do it with a group and not just one friend. If your friend breaks the habit, you are likely to break it as well. But as a group, you are supportive of each other!  The exact time it takes to form a habit is up to you, it could take a day or it could take a month or even two. The 21 days thing is just a saying, there is no science behind it but there is a good meaning behind it.

Waking up early means you feel amazing!

The power of overcoming your bad habit is a wonderful thing but there’s a side effect that is actually even more empowering and that is waking up before everyone else. You’d be waking up at 3, 4 or 4:30am each day and the sun isn’t even out yet! You have plenty of time before school and work to accomplish whatever you want and you did so without the need of a traumatizing alarm clock which interrupts your beautiful sleep cycle. Remember when I said earlier that if someone wakes you up at a certain stage you’d feel groggy? Say good-bye to that and hello happy smiles!

When you do this for the first few days you may or may not feel good about it. In fact, when I did it, I had to force myself into reasonable hours because I can’t just sleep if I’m not tired. So I watched the most boring shows as I could to fall asleep (just kidding) but I did actually start sleeping 30 minutes earlier each day until I could reach my goal of 8:30PM. Now I wake up feeling energized while before I would be groggy ALL DAY. I didn’t know what was making me feel that way but it turned out I had a horrible sleep schedule.

The second week or so came by and I would wake up feeling happy again, no more would I think thoughts like “oh, I need to work on Jappleng again? What a bummer…” Now I could think of things like “Oh, what a beautiful morning, I feel great, energized, I have a lot of energy and I can work happily on Jappleng!”. My point of view was entirely different and from what I’ve gathered from others, this is how it should be. I have spent half my life feeling miserable/depressed and that’s because I didn’t know the power of a good sleep schedule!

Good-bye depression and anxiety! Hello benefits!
While a good sleep schedule may not be the absolute cure for everyone, it was for me. I stopped having anxiety problems at night, my days were no longer groggy, I felt happy and my chronic depression disappeared in just two weeks of keeping up with my new sleep schedule. My attention span was much greater, my memory started to work again, and I was eager to learn something new every day!

How it benefits you to learn Japanese or anything else
As I’ve mentioned earlier, a better sleep schedule will make you happier and being happier leads to being able to engross yourself with anything easily. You can be more interested in Japanese or Japan or any of your studies and love it just that much more. Your “happy hormones” are wild when you have good sleep and wake up just at the right time.  Try studying for a test when you’re stressed and try studying the same material when you’re not stressed and doing it because you love it. You will retain the information so much easier and for longer!

Your focus will be there, you will be able to focus for longer periods of time because you can actually keep attention and aren’t so interested in sleeping the whole day. You might even be able to read this article in full by then!

You have time to workout in the morning and your body will appreciate it since mornings are the best time to workout. Yes, there’s a lot of studies on this! Go to bed with your workout clothes and have your shoes next to your bed. Wake up, put on your shoes and look at that, you can’t go back to bed anymore.

There’s almost nothing happening on social media and online games are pretty baron compared to after school / work so you can focus on what’s important.

You can have time to meditate which is also super effective at boosting your brain. You can learn about that in another but shorter article here.

You have time to make yourself a nice healthy breakfast every single day. No more skipping breakfast or eating unhealthy cereals. It’s a time for a happy breakfast!

There are a lot of other benefits, and it’s really strange to look back and think that I used to sleep for half the day when I could be living it in happiness. I challenge you to do this for at least 2 months, if you’re not completely satisfied then you can do whatever you want with your life but at least try it out and see how much it changes your life for the better. It’s free to try and  you will be able to learn Japanese so much faster too!

Still don’t believe me? Search for 4am is the most productive time or hour of the day on your favorite search engine and you’ll see a lot of news articles, scientific papers and people vouching for this. It truly is a remarkable thing and cannot stress the importance of this lifestyle change. Once you start this path, everything in your life will become so much easier. Trust me, I’m a Doctor, or at least I play as one in my dreams.
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