It’s About Time to Learn

Originally published on

It’s About Time to Learn

Along with learning how you learn best, it is also crucial to know when you learn and remember. Here’s a question to ask yourself at the end of a typical day: When do you remember what you remember from your day? Is it 8 a.m. to noon, the post-lunch grind, the free-at-last 5 p.m. to 10 at night period or a combination of snippets throughout the day?

People naturally have a window in the day in which they remember best. Morning is usually a good time to learn. Now, before I’m pummeled by armies of grumpy-faced coffee-slurpers, let me explain.

Memory, sleep and physical activity are all best friends. When your mind is fresh (after sleep), you’re more likely to remember. After exercise, your blood flows through your body meaning more oxygen goes to your brain. Your brain loves oxygen. When is your mind well rested and flowing with blood? Typically, it is after your morning ritual, your commute to work and the walk to your desk. It is that window of the morning where we check e-mail, surf the Web and chat with co-workers about last night’s game or the newest twist in “Lost.”

After eating, blood flows to your digestive system to help process your meal into something useful. More blood to the stomach means less to the brain. After lunch, your typical adult has just spent three to four hours sitting in a chair, working. Mix one part limited blood to the brain with one part hours of inactivity and you get a “food coma.” Unfortunately, many people run into this afternoon rut and still have a mountain of to-dos left on their desk — often because they squandered the morning away looking busy but not really working. I’m guilty too. After dinner, you are far removed from your previous good night’s sleep, you’ve been sitting for most of the day, and you’ve just eaten. It is time to sack out on the couch and let the TV dictate the pace of the remainder of your evening.

Please don’t think that I am advocating that we all become morning people. My best friend, for one, would strongly disagree. I am simply pointing out that the best time for learning and thinking (in education jargon, an “optimal learning window”) is—whether you like it or not—usually in the morning. If you work out during your lunch break or right after you get off at 5 p.m., you can crack that learning window back open for a while in the afternoon. You know those people who work out at lunch and then seem to be extra motivated during the afternoon drag? Yeah, they bug me too.

Think about it after you reflect on your average day. Do you remember a lot from your morning? Why do we read the paper, listen to talk radio on our commute, check emails totally unrelated to work, manage fantasy sports teams and web surf in the morning? I think you know the answer by now.

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