A reader recently asked me about my thoughts on studying while sleeping…

I responded, “Yea. Of course you can study while you’re sleeping. That’s how most students do it.”

He looked at me funny and I realized I’d have to explain my joke. (That’s never a good sign for a joke.)

Most students don’t focus while they’re studying.

They daydream for hours in front of their textbook and tell everyone, “Yea… I studied 6 hours last night.”

Students might as well be asleep. (It would probably help their grades more than their pseudo-studying.)

The reader I was talking to was referring to something a little bit different.

Listen While You Sleep

There are a number of audio programs out there that claim they can help you learn stuff while you’re sleeping.

All you have to do is hit play before you go to bed.

These programs claim to use repetition or specialized brain signals to teach you stuff. They sell their programs by claiming this has a noticeable effect on your results. (Scientifically verifiable proof is usually limited but they present plenty of anecdotes about how effective it is.)

It doesn’t take a genius to guess how effective these programs are but it’s still fun to dream about this stuff working.

I understand why it’s nice to think these programs work. Just imagine the benefits:

  • You can study less during the day
  • You prove you’re not wasting your time sleeping
  • The most “lazy” thing you do will become productive.

They don’t work.

Sure… I’m sure it has some tiny effect but I guarantee you, any verifiable effect is hidden behind 30 times as much marketing bullcrap. Also, I’m willing to bet for every benefit you see, you’re risking the quality of your sleep. That means, you’ll be losing your ability to enjoy the long term benefits.

It’s nice to imagine these programs work. I get it. In fact, I was hopeful about my own sleep study fantasy when I was younger.

Uberman And Saving Sleep

Have you ever heard of an Uberman sleep schedule?

It’s a sleep schedule with a whole lot of mythology behind it. Supposedly, you can sleep less than a couple hours a day by sleeping in short sessions throughout the day. You’ll sleep 20 minutes every few hours instead of 8 hours a night.

This might sound a little silly but there is a complicated (and impressive) explanation of why this would work.

Just like studying while you sleep, it’s quite a bit of hype and not much beef.

Right after high school, I spent 2-3 months living on an uberman sleep schedule.

As expected, the start was miserable. Eventually, I got the hang of it. I was sleeping only a couple hours a day and living reasonably.

It came with a number of problems but it was doable. (I don’t think everyone can pull this off. I don’t recommend it. I just happen to be a bit nuts.)

Here is the problem:

I felt okay but I lived terribly. I did experiments on the schedule to make sure everything was working. The results of the experiments weren’t good.

My reaction time was shot. My recall was down dramatically. I was lifting less weight every workout. I was slowly falling apart.

Despite all those negative signs, I kept telling myself that I just needed another week.

It gave me hope. I wanted it to work so I kept it up.

Eventually, a medical problem forced me to quit. (I can’t say whether it’s related or not but it was serious enough for me to decide it’s not worth the risk.)

Here I’m going to present an idea I haven’t fully developed. I think it’s important though.

The Double Edged Sword Of Hope

Most people think hope is a good thing.

Hope is what gets people up in the morning.

If you knew that your life would never improve from what it is today, what would get you up in the morning during the hard times?

Maybe you have such an awesome life that you don’t need to worry about it. My life has had enough rocky moments to need that hope.

Hope is what keeps people trying to improve their life.

It’s why people study. It’s why people work out. It’s why people go to their job. It’s why students don’t curse out their teachers. There is no guarantee you’ll see a benefit from doing these things. You’re just hoping.

Hope is often good but it can also be a negative.

Hope is why people spend their only money on lottery tickets when they should be saving for retirement.

Sure… spending an extra couple bucks on a lottery ticket can be a good kind of hope. It can be worth the cost. But if you’re failing to go with the more likely benefits then the hope becomes a negative. If you’re going hungry then a lottery ticket will do more harm than good.

Hope is why people buy “listen while you sleep” audio programs. Hope is why I started an Uberman sleep schedule. Hope is something you can use for good or bad.

How To Use Hope For Studying

Hope is an amazing motivator.

If you want to get yourself to study then get hopeful to a fault. Dream too big for reality.

Don’t try to develop a reasonable study routine. Reasonable is boring. It’s hard. It’s not very motivating.

Dream big.

Dream of a study routine that only takes you a few minutes but still gives you perfect grades.

This will get you to start. Starting is the hardest part.

Hope for the greatest possible scenario but never lose sight of this next part.

Start by using hope. Finish by using logic.

Hope will get you closer to your goal. When you fail to achieve your “impossible fantasy,” don’t evaluate your results based on that fantasy. Evaluate the results using logic.

Did your grades improve? Then you did something right.

Did your grades lower? Then you did something wrong.

Treat your hopeful fantasies like solid study experiments.

Test stuff by being hopeful. Change your habits to the tested stuff that works most effectively.

I had one reader complain to me recently.

He was complaining that I was underselling the 15MSS. This confused me because I was terrified I was overselling it.

Think about it.

I say, “you can study in less than 15 minutes a night and still score higher than most of your class.” Then I try to show my reasoning.

He told me that I make it sound reasonable. He avoided using the study routine for months because he didn’t see how good it would actually be. I undersold how much of an improvement the 15MSS could be.

This has been making me wonder: am I underselling hope?

If you don’t give yourself hope then you’re not using the most of your abilities. Logic can keep you grounded. Sure… you don’t want to get your head in the clouds but there is nothing wrong with trying to do a little flying once in awhile. (Just don’t jump from anywhere too high.)

So… study while you sleep if it gives you hope. Then measure the results and make the choice based on that.

Using hope responsibly can often get you farther than using logic exclusively.


Image Sources: KaboomPics, Olichel, Wikimedia, Good Free PhotosRawPixel

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