Three Types of Rests for Rapid Learning
It’s a mistake to think that learning a skill happens during practice.
It does to a certain extent, but it is best to view it similarly to how we build muscle. When we lift heavy weights, our muscles go through slight tearing, but they grow bigger and stronger during rest. Skill development happens the same way.
But there is more to rest than just taking naps and getting 8 hours of sleep. This article will show you other science-backed types of rest for quick acquisition of skills.
In the A Rapid Form of Offline Consolidation in Skill Learning study, participants were asked to type a sequence of numbers they see on the screen using their left non-dominant hand. After typing the numbers, they had to rest for 10 seconds before proceeding.
They then returned the next day to perform the same task. Unsurprisingly, their accuracy and speed was better because the overnight rest allowed them to develop their skill. But the more interesting result is that the sum of their improvements during the microbreak-incorporated practice from the previous day was far greater than their overnight offline learning.
So how do you use this knowledge in learning a new skill?
Practice sessions usually involve drills. Go through those drills and incorporate microbreaks in between sets. For example, let’s say you are learning how to sing and you have a set of scales you have to practice for the day. Sing one scale at a time and take 10-15 second breaks in between scales.
Dr. Andrew Huberman, a Neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, shares in his podcast that it’s a good idea to do absolutely nothing after a practice session. This entails closing your eyes for 1-10 minutes. Meditating or taking a nap are some forms of this type of rest.
Many times, we immediately do something after practicing, so we miss out on an opportunity to quickly “fuse” a skill into our brain. By taking a post-practice rest, a backward replay of the sequence of neurons that are involved in the skill you practice prior to resting happens. Why backwards? We don’t know, but Dr. Huberman says that there is an elimination of errors and strengthening of correct movements during that phase. Meaning, improvements happen immediately after practice if you go “offline.”
I personally do this in my singing endeavors — I do my vocal exercises in my car while driving to work. Then, I do a post-practice meditation session for about 10 minutes in the parking lot before stepping in the office.
We are not machines that can operate at high levels for hours. Neglecting this area of your life makes learning skills more difficult so get the overnight rest your body needs as consistently as possible.
There are countless articles written about getting optimal sleep, so I’m going to mention one of the culprits to not getting consistent sleep — inconsistency.
Dr. Huberman says it is better to consistently get about 7 hours of sleep a night compared to sleeping 6 hours one night, 8 on another, 5 on another, and so on. One of the ways he suggests to get consistent sleep is by getting sunlight within an hour of waking up. There are two reasons why.
First, it sets a countdown timer on your body’s internal clock. It’s like telling your body to be active starting at that hour and then begin winding down at about the 12 hour mark.
Second, it allows the cortisol (the chemical of stress) levels to peak in the morning so it’s production will be minimal at night.
It takes about 3 days for the body to start getting consistent sleep if you follow this regimen so stick with it as best as you can.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned learner, the three rest protocols — micro-rest, post-practice rest, and sleep — allow you to develop skills at a rapid pace. Use them to your advantage.