Delayed school start time = better performance

Delaying middle school and high school start times promotes student health and performance: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement.
Watson NF, Martin JL, Wise MS, Carden KA, Kirsch DB, Kristo DA, Malhotra RK, Olson EJ, Ramar K, Rosen IM, Rowley JA, Weaver TE, Chervin RD.
J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(4):623–625. 

 During adolescence, internal circadian rhythms and biological sleep drive change to result in later sleep and wake times. As a result of these changes, early middle school and high school start times curtail sleep, hamper a student's preparedness to learn, negatively impact physical and mental health, and impair driving safety. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence shows that delaying school start times positively impacts student achievement, health, and safety. Public awareness of the hazards of early school start times and the benefits of later start times are largely unappreciated. As a result, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is calling on communities, school boards, and educational institutions to implement start times of 8:30 AM or later for middle schools and high schools to ensure that every student arrives at school healthy, awake, alert, and ready to learn.

Sleep-deprived human brain

The sleep-deprived human brain
Adam J. Krause, Eti Ben Simon, Bryce A. Mander, Stephanie M. Greer, Jared M. Saletin, Andrea N. Goldstein-Piekarski & Matthew P. Walker
Nature Reviews Neuroscience (2017)

How does a lack of sleep affect our brains? In contrast to the benefits of sleep, frameworks exploring the impact of sleep loss are relatively lacking. Importantly, the effects of sleep deprivation (SD) do not simply reflect the absence of sleep and the benefits attributed to it; rather, they reflect the consequences of several additional factors, including extended wakefulness. With a focus on neuroimaging studies, we review the consequences of SD on attention and working memory, positive and negative emotion, and hippocampal learning. We explore how this evidence informs our mechanistic understanding of the known changes in cognition and emotion associated with SD, and the insights it provides regarding clinical conditions associated with sleep disruption

Intentions matter for benefits from sleep

Consolidation of Prospective Memory: Effects of Sleep on Completed and Reinstated Intentions
Barner C, Seibold M, Born J, Diekelmann S.
Front. Psychol., 06 January 2017 

Sleep has been shown to facilitate the consolidation of prospective memory, which is the ability to execute intended actions at the appropriate time in the future. In a previous study, the sleep benefit for prospective memory was mainly expressed as a preservation of prospective memory performance under divided attention as compared to full attention. Based on evidence that intentions are only remembered as long as they have not been executed yet (cf. 'Zeigarnik effect'), here we asked whether the enhancement of prospective memory by sleep vanishes if the intention is completed before sleep and whether completed intentions can be reinstated to benefit from sleep again. In Experiment 1, subjects learned cue-associate word pairs in the evening and were prospectively instructed to detect the cue words and to type in the associates in a lexical decision task (serving as ongoing task) 2 h later before a night of sleep or wakefulness. At a second surprise test 2 days later, sleep and wake subjects did not differ in prospective memory performance. Specifically, both sleep and wake groups detected fewer cue words under divided compared to full attention, indicating that sleep does not facilitate the consolidation of completed intentions. Unexpectedly, in Experiment 2, reinstating the intention, by instructing subjects about the second test after completion of the first test, was not sufficient to restore the sleep benefit. However, in Experiment 3, where subjects were instructed about both test sessions immediately after learning, sleep facilitated prospective memory performance at the second test after 2 days, evidenced by comparable cue word detection under divided attention and full attention in sleep participants, whereas wake participants detected fewer cue words under divided relative to full attention. Together, these findings show that for prospective memory to benefit from sleep, (i) the intention has to be active across the sleep period, and (ii) the intention should be induced in temporal proximity to the initial learning session.

Global sleep crisis

A global quantification of “normal” sleep schedules using smartphone data
Olivia J. Walch, Amy Cochran and Daniel B. Forger
Science Advances 06 May 2016:Vol. 2, no. 5, e1501705

The influence of the circadian clock on sleep scheduling has been studied extensively in the laboratory; however, the effects of society on sleep remain largely unquantified. We show how a smartphone app that we have developed, ENTRAIN, accurately collects data on sleep habits around the world. Through mathematical modeling and statistics, we find that social pressures weaken and/or conceal biological drives in the evening, leading individuals to delay their bedtime and shorten their sleep. A country’s average bedtime, but not average wake time, predicts sleep duration. We further show that mathematical models based on controlled laboratory experiments predict qualitative trends in sunrise, sunset, and light level; however, these effects are attenuated in the real world around bedtime. Additionally, we find that women schedule more sleep than men and that users reporting that they are typically exposed to outdoor light go to sleep earlier and sleep more than those reporting indoor light. Finally, we find that age is the primary determinant of sleep timing, and that age plays an important role in the variability of population-level sleep habits. This work better defines and personalizes “normal” sleep, produces hypotheses for future testing in the laboratory, and suggests important ways to counteract the global sleep crisis.

The brain dictionary

Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex
Alexander G. Huth, Wendy A. de Heer, Thomas L. Griffiths, Frédéric E. Theunissen & Jack L. Gallant.
Nature 532, 453–458 (28 April 2016)

The meaning of language is represented in regions of the cerebral cortex collectively known as the ‘semantic system’. However, little of the semantic system has been mapped comprehensively, and the semantic selectivity of most regions is unknown. Here we systematically map semantic selectivity across the cortex using voxel-wise modelling of functional MRI (fMRI) data collected while subjects listened to hours of narrative stories. We show that the semantic system is organized into intricate patterns that seem to be consistent across individuals. We then use a novel generative model to create a detailed semantic atlas. Our results suggest that most areas within the semantic system represent information about specific semantic domains, or groups of related concepts, and our atlas shows which domains are represented in each area. This study demonstrates that data-driven methods—commonplace in studies of human neuroanatomy and functional connectivity—provide a powerful and efficient means for mapping functional representations in the brain.

Explore the brain model for yourself here:


Biomarker of cognitive susceptibility to sleep deprivation

Human Hippocampal Structure: A Novel Biomarker Predicting Mnemonic Vulnerability to, and Recovery from, Sleep Deprivation
Saletin JM, Goldstein-Piekarski AN, Greer SM, Stark S, Stark CE, Walker MP.
The Journal of Neuroscience, 24 February 2016, 36(8):2355-2363

Sleep deprivation impairs the formation of new memories. However, marked interindividual variability exists in the degree to which sleep loss compromises learning, the mechanistic reasons for which are unclear. Furthermore, which physiological sleep processes restore learning ability following sleep deprivation are similarly unknown. Here, we demonstrate that the structural morphology of human hippocampal subfields represents one factor determining vulnerability (and conversely, resilience) to the impact of sleep deprivation on memory formation. Moreover, this same measure of brain morphology was further associated with the quality of nonrapid eye movement slow wave oscillations during recovery sleep, and by way of such activity, determined the success of memory restoration. Such findings provide a novel human biomarker of cognitive susceptibility to, and recovery from, sleep deprivation. Moreover, this metric may be of special predictive utility for professions in which memory function is paramount yet insufficient sleep is pervasive (e.g., aviation, military, and medicine). 

Sleep deprivation does not impact all people equally. Some individuals show cognitive resilience to the effects of sleep loss, whereas others express striking vulnerability, the reasons for which remain largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that structural features of the human brain, specifically those within the hippocampus, accurately predict which individuals are susceptible (or conversely, resilient) to memory impairments caused by sleep deprivation. Moreover, this same structural feature determines the success of memory restoration following subsequent recovery sleep. Therefore, structural properties of the human brain represent a novel biomarker predicting individual vulnerability to (and recovery from) the effects of sleep loss, one with occupational relevance in professions where insufficient sleep is pervasive yet memory function is paramount.

Curiosity changes brain to enhance learning and memory

States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit
Matthias J. Gruber, Bernard D. Gelman, Charan Ranganath
Neuron , Volume 84 , Issue 2 , 486 - 496 

People find it easier to learn about topics that interest them, but little is known about the mechanisms by which intrinsic motivational states affect learning. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how curiosity (intrinsic motivation to learn) influences memory. In both immediate and one-day-delayed memory tests, participants showed improved memory for information that they were curious about and for incidental material learned during states of high curiosity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging results revealed that activity in the midbrain and the nucleus accumbens was enhanced during states of high curiosity. Importantly, individual variability in curiosity-driven memory benefits for incidental material was supported by anticipatory activity in the midbrain and hippocampus and by functional connectivity between these regions. These findings suggest a link between the mechanisms supporting extrinsic reward motivation and intrinsic curiosity and highlight the importance of stimulating curiosity to create more effective learning experiences.