Vincent Walsh

Habits & Health episode 13 - Vincent Walsh

Habits & Health episode 13 with Vincent Walsh, Professor of Human Brain Research, Applied Cognitive Neuroscience of UCL. In this episode, we discuss many aspects around sleep, peak performance, effective learning and much more.

Topics discussed include:

  • Circadian clock
  • Melatonin
  • Shift workers
  • Homeostasis
  • 3 Golden Rules of Sleep
  • How poor sleep affects digestion and our eating habits
  • How sleep affects learning and memory
  • Naps
  • Polyphasic sleep
  • Night owls and morning larks]
  • Sleep needs for teenage children
  • Effective ways to study and retain the material
  • The UK education system
  • Music lessons
  • Interweaved learning

Recommended books by Vincent:

The Daring Invention of Logarithm Tables The Cello Suites The Rest is Noise

The rest is noise – Alec Ross

The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece – Eric Siblin

The Daring Invention of Logarithm Tables: How Jost Bürgi, John Napier, and Henry Briggs simplified arithmetic and started the computing revolution – Klaus Truemper


Habits & Health links:

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Details of online workshops to create habits for health –

Are you in control of your habits or are they in control of you? Take my quiz to find out –

Take part in Tony’s free 5-day-programme –

The Vincent Walsh interview link:

This video is related to an older episode featuring Devin Burke

[00:00:00.480] - Jingle

Habits and Health Episode 13. Welcome to the Habits and Health podcast, where we believe creating healthy habits should be easy brought to you by an educator and coach for anyone who wants to create a healthier life. Here's your host, Tony Wynyard.

[00:00:20.970] - Tony Winyard

Welcome to the podcast, where we give you ideas on how you create that will improve your health in some shape or form. Today's episode is with Professor Vincent Walsh, and it's a fascinating episode.

[00:00:33.030] - Tony Winyard

We dig deep into sleep and learning and how sleep helps learning and many other aspects of those two subjects.

[00:00:43.170] - Tony Winyard

Please do review a review for us on iTunes. Why not subscribe and share this episode with your friends who maybe would get some real value from some of the nuggets that Vincent shares in this episode, Habits in Health?

[00:00:58.620] - Tony Winyard

My guest today is Vincent Walsh. How are you, Vincent?

[00:01:01.380] - Vincent Walsh

I'm good, thank you. Nice to be here tonight. I say know about where you are, but it's a beautiful day down here.

[00:01:09.170] - Vincent Walsh

No, it's it's pretty grey outside. So the windows and it's tipping it down.

[00:01:17.490] - Tony Winyard

And, you know, you're in Camden.

[00:01:19.980] - Vincent Walsh

Yeah, I live in central London. Are working Newcastle, the shortest commute to my life. I've got a 20 minute walk to work. I mean, I haven't been there for a year like everybody else. I've now got a 30 second walk from my bedroom to my to my desk. But, yeah, I, I'm committed to central London. I love it.

[00:01:43.230] - Tony Winyard

And what is so what do you doat UCL?

[00:01:46.260] - Vincent Walsh

I Have a research group that I have a chair in human brain research. I do some work on sleep and sleep and learning sleep and cognition. One current student is working on Sleep in the Blind because they have special issues. I have another student working on brain stimulation and in migraine and depression, another student just finished on decision making under pressure, working mostly with elite sports people. Somebody else looking at decision making and learning in industrial contexts of work contexts, not heavy industry desk industry.

[00:02:35.010] - Vincent Walsh

I'm trying to think if I've forgotten any of my my students, I hope not. And there's another one I'm working on on sleep at the moment as well. So that's why the two two big things are brain stimulation. There's always something going on in that. And I'm sleep and I'm trying to do more in sleep and decision making and learning. But, you know, life is finite.

[00:03:02.430] - Tony Winyard

And what was it the lead you into doing that in the first place? I was a nurse for four for eight years when I left school. I just got interested in in in what I thought was clinical psychology at that time, which is what a lot of people who do psychology degrees think they're interested in and.

[00:03:25.880] - Vincent Walsh

You went to night school so so I could I could do that, and and then when I was doing my psychology degree, I just got hooked on the biological side of it at that time, the physiology of perception, and then did a Ph.D. in the physiology of perception, looking at collaboration and how colour is constructed in the brain. A couple of things went right. Things went wrong after that.

[00:03:52.060] - Vincent Walsh

And yeah, I ended up in in UCLA mainly.

[00:03:59.110] - Vincent Walsh

I focussed on brain stimulation for about 15 years before I got into other things. And yeah, I mean, I just became more and more hooked on on on on ideas about brain scientific ideas in general and finding ways to to do the experiments. And yeah, I got lucky. There was one stage where I was about to give up two years ago and particularly badly. Yeah. I'd say, I'd say there's no difference now between the intellectual drive now and and what there was 30 years ago when I went to went to university.

[00:04:41.980] - Tony Winyard

And so in that time, what is the most surprising discovery that you've made?

[00:04:47.950] - Vincent Walsh

Well, I don't know. I don't know that I recall surprising rather than a surprising discovery. It's the what you do do is you encounter surprising ideas all the time, right from the very beginning. The idea that the colour doesn't exist out in the real world, in the physical world, it's actually constructed by by by your brain. So we taught at school that that that Newton discovered that white light is divided into different wavelengths and long wavelengths make you perceive red, but it's just not the case.

[00:05:26.650] - Vincent Walsh

What the brain does is take a set of ratios and decide what is red.

[00:05:30.040] - Vincent Walsh

And sometimes it can have more, more grit, what you would call green light coming from it than red light. So just the very idea that that something that we see every day and sometimes think that we understand isn't the way that we thought it was.

[00:05:45.830] - Vincent Walsh

And that's what that's where I always get hooked when when things are not what you would think them to be. When, when, when the science disagrees with our our perceptions of of common sense. So that's the kind of trope that that I find all the time. Another great experience with you. I want a PhD student working on perception of time, on issues and working on the construction of number in the brain and one student working on space in the in the brain.

[00:06:20.080] - Vincent Walsh

And these were three very separate literatures. But we were all all three students were looking at the same brain area. So from that we started to look at while our our space and time, a number of from the same kind of core system of magnitudes in the in the human brain, is that how we develop? And there's no way you can intuit things like that. So it's whenever whenever you come across something that you can't intuit, but you just have to struggle with the truth of it.

[00:06:53.100] - Vincent Walsh

That's that's what is what I find not surprising, but but exciting. I think one there's one kind of out factor which I always tell people about in my sleep, like two, which is that every cell in your body has a has a clock. You know, that that was that was a great, great wake up call as well. But I get constantly surprised and very surprised by by ideas. You know, it's I just finished reading a book which I've read several times on relativity.

[00:07:31.000] - Vincent Walsh

And no matter, people take things for granted. We think we understand things because they're out there. The challenge to me is always, can you explain it to somebody? Do you understand it well enough to explain it? And just very, very basic ideas that the same for the theory of evolution. If you really think about them, your head has to spin. And that's that's the kind of intellectual hi, I'm looking for, if you like.

[00:07:56.860] - Tony Winyard

And what you just said about the every cell has its own clock. So for people who are listening and thinking, well, what's that all about? And explain that.

[00:08:06.040] - Vincent Walsh

Well, I mean, our our bodies run on a on a circadian system.

[00:08:13.750] - Vincent Walsh

And and these timing mechanisms exist in every other animal and mammals, birds, insects, the genes that respond to this circadian rhythm, this 24 hour clock, it's it's been there for as long as they've been there for as long as the sun's been rising over the earth or rather the Earth's been going around the sun and the genes for a time, as some of the most highly preserved in biology were amongst the first genes discovered to compare genes precisely because a fruit fly time of time genes look a lot like ours.

[00:08:52.780] - Vincent Walsh

And and this is in this is expressed in in every cell in your body because every cell in your body will go through that 24 hour cycle. So the example I always like to give is that if I go to the bathroom at seven o'clock in the morning, you've got nine o'clock in the morning and you get my kidney in a kidney transplant, you'll start going to the bathroom at seven o'clock in the morning until you retry my kidney clocks. And that's where I really came in with a deeper interest in it, in sleep and sleep health, realising that you can gain a three and a half billion year old system.

[00:09:33.760] - Vincent Walsh

It's going to be tough.

[00:09:36.730] - Tony Winyard

And that makes me think about I mean, there seems to be so many aspects of sleep. The misunderstood by society today, the word that affects our health in so many ways.

[00:09:48.980] - Vincent Walsh

I mean, I think in one sense it's really simple. It's a bit like it's a bit like diet and exercise and and health. You know, let's just eat stuff that looks like food, don't eat more of it than you use and an exercise. So it's kind of not not a mystery, but we make it complicated for ourselves with with sleep, I think, because it's the thing that we do the most in our lives. We do it more than anything else.

[00:10:21.620] - Vincent Walsh

Whatever you do in your life, you sleep more than it. And because everybody does it and there are seven billion of us, there's going to be a lot of spread, a lot of differences in people's experiences. So it's one of those things where even if science makes a population statement about sleep, the most famous being eight hours that people worry about, you know, there's going to be a few billion people who doesn't fit because it's statistical spread.

[00:10:49.820] - Vincent Walsh

So it's one of the other. It's fundamental to all of us. And the fundamentals are the same. It's hard to make population statements that that won't leave some of your audience behind every time you speak to a group of people. But the fundamentals are that we we all have to do it and that it's probably more important than anything else that we do do in terms of health and wellbeing. If you're not sleeping properly, you're not doing anything else properly.

[00:11:23.670] - Vincent Walsh

You have to mantra if you're not sleeping properly, you're not dieting properly. If you're not sleeping properly, why aren't you don't if you're not dieting properly? Because during sleep, your dietary hormones are reregulated. So it helps you to know when you're hungry and when when you're full. We all eat too much when we sleep badly. If you're not sleeping, you're not exercising properly because of muscle recovery. You're not sleeping properly. You're not learning properly because of memory, consolidation of sleep, not sleeping properly.

[00:11:54.380] - Vincent Walsh

You're not being as good with other people as you can know a good social being because sleep helps you to regulate your social monitoring and emotional systems. So the first fundamental is that it's probably the most important thing that you do, but we kind of just hope it goes right. Our passivity about it is quite, quite astonishing.

[00:12:20.390] - Vincent Walsh

And the rules about it, I think are pretty simple as well, that going back to the circadian system and the and the sun, you need to get your lighting regime right. So, you know, I think I might have said at the lecture that you came to, if you've got if you've got a television in your bedroom, just just leave the room. I know you don't deserve to sleep. I have no interest in talking to you. Bombing up, bombarding us ourselves with with artificial light is sending this massive signal to our central master clock in the brain that it's daytime and that clock is three and a half billion years old.

[00:12:59.090] - Vincent Walsh

So it's well, not not the clock in humans because we are three now. But the biological responses to that are very, very old. So it's the first the second golden rule is heat. Our houses are much hotter than ever before, five degrees hotter than they were even forty years ago. And when we go to sleep at night before we go sleep, our bodies start to cool down the core temperature and have its clocks like to be run regularly.

[00:13:28.910] - Vincent Walsh

And many of us don't have good sleep habits. When should I go to bed? When I've finished this episode, of course I go to bed now. Well, maybe I just do one more episode.

[00:13:40.850] - Vincent Walsh

Heat, light and habits. Think of three of the four golden rules of sleep in the fourth is this anxiety, which is because you do it more, more often than anything else you do in your life. It's unreasonable to expect it to be perfect all the time. So it's a good idea to be less anxious about the occasional bad night's sleep that you might have. You know, if you're getting sick for a good night's sleep, you're doing you're doing very well.

[00:14:08.210] - Vincent Walsh

It's a bit like making a New Year's resolution to go to the gym every day, learn a foreign language and not drink. You know, maybe if you're only drinking once a week, that's good enough. And if you go to the gym two or three times a week, that's good enough. I can't help you with the foreign language. But, you know, so if you if you just get your habit to actually get three, four or five good night's sleep, that would be an improvement for most people.

[00:14:33.740] - Vincent Walsh

The hard part is not it's not an understanding. Everybody knows they're in the same way as we know what to do for. Our food and weight, health and well-being, the hard part is not understanding, it's operationalising, doing it every day, you know, it demands our efforts and those to make an effort to to engage and take responsibility.

[00:14:56.860] - Vincent Walsh

And we all failed at that one.

[00:15:02.060] - Tony Winyard

I mean, you mentioned when I saw you talking to one of the things you mentioned was the anxiety or the worry that people put on themselves by thinking or they've been told they should have interrupted sleep every night. Yeah. And do you mean uninterrupted? Uninterrupted. Yeah. You know, people do worry when they wake up in the middle of the night, but it's thoroughly natural, the unnatural thing, not unnatural. But the rarer thing is to expect to be able to sleep through eight hours.

[00:15:31.180] - Vincent Walsh

The reason we simply people do that, some people can. But a lot of people also had to train for it and just get very tired of the working life so that they sleep at night.

[00:15:43.440] - Vincent Walsh

Before the Industrial Revolution, there was no such thing as a night's sleep. There wouldn't be people would sleep two or three times a day, an afternoon nap and early sleep the early part of the night and a little sleep in the lower part of the night. And pre-industrial society still do that. It's called polyphasic sleeping in its sun dress. But there isn't a single pre-industrial society where they sleep just during the night. Everybody everybody naps. And so it's quite natural to find that every day, almost every day.

[00:16:23.670] - Vincent Walsh

Sometimes real life intervenes during lockdown. I've certainly not up to almost every day. It's been a sleeping boon for me. Most people, you know, it's not I won't say most people, but I would say it's completely normal to wake up in the middle of the night and perhaps just understanding that will help people not to worry about it. So the helpful response to it is to think it's normal to wake up in the middle of the night. I might be one of those polyphasic sleepers, so maybe I need a little bit of a routine to help me get back to sleep in the middle of the night.

[00:17:01.500] - Vincent Walsh

And I have one for the night. So I wake up and some nights I do wake up, some nights I don't wake up. The key is just accept what what just happened. And I say, do wake up. I get up. I make myself a cup of hot water because that's where I drink. And I go into my living room and put on my very dim local temperature, reddish light and read by it up. And two things.

[00:17:29.790] - Vincent Walsh

One is it's a little bit too dim to read, so my eyes get tired. Three things either. Secondly, I'm not anxious, so I'm not worried. I'm going to be. I went to the morning and the third thing is, is because I always do that when I wake up, I've got this habit. So my body's clocks are saying, I've been here before. This is when we stay up for a bit, read a bit of a chapter that we're going to forget and then get tired because he's not like some Britney.

[00:17:55.430] - Vincent Walsh

And then I go back to bed and sleep and, you know, we've all got difficulties. We sleep in mine is that I'm very much a night owl. I'm very happy to to be up at one one thirty two o'clock would be a model bedtime for me, which means I'm very unhappy. I have to get up before 10:00. So I don't know. In real life we can all construct our lives around our body clocks. But it's really worth bearing in mind, I think.

[00:18:29.930] - Tony Winyard

And that brings about nine hours and morning to this, it's quite different, as many there's a lot of people are one of the other.

[00:18:39.230] - Vincent Walsh

Well, not know the people that are there. They say, you know, we have a tendency to dichotomous things because it helps us to understand them. So it does help to think, oh, they're a nice house and there are mourning, mourning. But the truth is that the vast majority of people somewhere in between, so vast majority of people, you can kind of respond healthily to a life shift, which means that you get up two hours earlier, but regularly, or you can respond to a life shift, which means that you don't finish work till nine o'clock at night.

[00:19:17.090] - Vincent Walsh

So for the vast majority of us, we're kind of a bit morning in the evening. There are some people, a small percentage of people who are at the extremes, who are very much at night owls or or morning light.

[00:19:34.100] - Vincent Walsh

Yeah, I think I would discourage people from too hastily categorising themselves as one or the other. It can be shifted a little bit. The people who we should worry about are the people who are working night shifts because although there's a spread across Crono type, it's called the remaining night person that is population spread across that we're still diurnal animals. We're not nocturnal. So shiftwork presents really big health challenges for people. Hmm.

[00:20:14.360] - Tony Winyard

Want you before you talked about temperatures, but it has been one of those golden three or golden four. There seems to be a lot of sort of technology this this around now that helps to cool the temperature in when people are sleeping, such as something called a chilli pad, which reduces the I'm not sure exactly how it works, but it reduces the temperature

[00:20:35.990] - Vincent Walsh

we don't need it, don't need a technological solution for this.

[00:20:39.780] - Vincent Walsh

I mean, turn your editor off of your winter in the summer, have different rates of a winter and a summer quilt. If you sleeping in a double bed, it's best to have two single quilts in the bed so that you're not getting eaten by the the other person's body. And you might just brought up different temperature needs. And it's a good idea to wear some natural fibre pyjamas because you sweat a lot during the night that will take care of it.

[00:21:14.510] - Vincent Walsh

In addition, if you go to bed regularly in a similar time every night, those body clocks will be helped to moderate your your body temperature. But really, it's not that it's not that hard. And, you know, sleep is one of those things that every animal does. Again, we do it more than anything else in our lives. Is this worth it's worth repeating that it's not a it's not a big stretch to think maybe we've got everything in the natural tank without a technological solution here.

[00:21:54.950] - Vincent Walsh

So, yeah, darkrooms. I don't have a reading lamp in my bedroom, for example. I have a central light, but it's it's dark when that switch after dark, cool, cool rooms, we we don't need technology for that. Maybe in in a heat wave you might want an air conditioner or a cooler in the room, but that's, that's as far as it goes.

[00:22:21.080] - Tony Winyard

And before you touched upon naps as well, how would you think people should know about naps? Because there's a lot of confusion maybe around them. Well yeah.

[00:22:31.520] - Vincent Walsh

Should should it should. It is my least favourite word. I never know what people should do or should know or should read or should think of. I'm happy for them to do whatever they like. But I can tell you what I think is important about maps are first important thing I think is that that they are completely natural. There's no need to worry if you if you are an apple or indeed be embarrassed if if you if you need an app, it's it's a good idea to think, all right, I eat when I'm hungry usually or snack when I'm hungry.

[00:23:08.510] - Vincent Walsh

I exercise when I feel that I'm physically able to exercise. Why shouldn't I sleep when my body tells me I should sleep? So the first is it's natural that the second is, is to think, well, what is a nap? And then sleep itself is defined as a brain state. So what kind of a brain state is a nap? During sleep, we go through 90 minute cycles of light sleep, stage two, sleep stages three and four, which people call deep sleep.

[00:23:40.890] - Vincent Walsh

And REM sleep and we go through that 90 minute cycle several times a night and you go through those stages as well in a nap, now you're usually in the light of sleep and stage two for up to 30, maximum 40 minutes for part of the cycle.

[00:24:01.410] - Vincent Walsh

So if you go beyond that. Then you get into deep sleep, and that's why when people say, oh, I've tried napping and it didn't work for me, it's usually that they woke up after 50 minutes an hour and felt groggy. That's because you're in deep sleep and it's the worst time to to wake up. So that's where the power nap comes from. 20, 30 minute nap, I think is a good idea. So that's where the power nap comes from, 20, 30 minutes if you go beyond that.

[00:24:27.880] - Vincent Walsh

That's why you get groggy. And the next thing to know about that 90 minute sleep cycle is that if you if you go beyond the 20, 30 minutes to good idea to go through the whole 90 minutes and then you wake up in enlight sleep and that's when you feel refreshed. And the third thing to know about the structure of naps. Is that if you if you end up too late in the day when something called sleep pressure is building up, then your nap will possibly eat in to your sleep diet for the evening.

[00:25:05.910] - Vincent Walsh

So people sleep to not too late or too long. Then they feel that they're groggy or they can't get to sleep as easily in the evening. So just as a rule of thumb, but again, everybody is different. I try not to nap while I don't know after 3:00 in the in the afternoon, that's bit too too late for me.

[00:25:31.740] - Tony Winyard

And so based on what you were just saying about how can a 90 minute cycle so therefore, if someone they sleep at night and then they have an alarm to wake them up in the morning, and if that alarm goes off, it's halfway through one of those 90 minute cycles, is that going to have an effect on how they're going to feel in a day?

[00:25:50.400] - Vincent Walsh

Yes, and it's one of the reasons why people feel groggy in the in the mornings that the the alarm wakes you up in the wrong part of the cycle. It's but if it is waking up in the wrong place, it's cycle. It's probably because you haven't had enough you haven't gone to sleep early enough because in the later part of the night, going towards morning, that's when during that first REM sleep and light sleep dominance and there's very little deep sleep.

[00:26:24.720] - Vincent Walsh

So you've got to be a little bit unlucky to get woken up in deep sleep early in the morning. If you're a night owl like me, then it's quite feasible that you might be the seven o'clock alarm will is torture. You know, that's that's because I'm still not all the way into the very last part of my night's sleep. So, yes, again, real world meets ideal situations. It would be nice if we could wake up naturally every morning, but our working habits and family habits don't always allow that.

[00:27:02.130] - Vincent Walsh

So we have to ask how can we win? And that's in that part of the sleep. And I think it's only by having good habits that you get used to waking up at the same same time every every day.

[00:27:19.620] - Vincent Walsh

Yeah, but alarms are generally, you know, generally bad things, but necessary.

[00:27:30.030] - Jingle

We hope you're enjoying this episode of the Habits and Health podcast where we believe creating healthy habits should be easy. If you're looking for the fastest and most effective way to transform your energy and wellbeing, we invite you to join Tony for an upcoming Habits and Health Workshop. This five week group workshop.

[00:27:50.250] - Jingle

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[00:28:02.970] - Jingle

Workshops begin on the first week of every month and you can sign up now at Tony Wynyard dot com. Now back to the show.

[00:28:13.170] - Tony Winyard

You talked before about learning and and sleep. Is there more connexions either between learning and sleep?

[00:28:21.630] - Vincent Walsh

Well, if you think who learns the most the most quickly, it's infants and children. And if you think about what they spend most of their time doing, it's sleeping. So there's a big clue there. But we we know now there's a lot of really good evidence. I mean, some super inventive experiments showing the different stages of sleep are absolutely necessary to different different types of learning. And whenever I'm giving a lecture or a public talk, I always say the only person who's learning now is me, because I'm practising what I'm doing and I'm reconsolidating my memories about what I know.

[00:29:11.380] - Vincent Walsh

The same now I'm I'm learning because I'm really having to think you're not learning at the moment, but I'm putting you perhaps in a position to learn. So when will you learn? You'll learn when you go to sleep and your brain replaced through the information of the day, makes new connexions.

[00:29:30.060] - Vincent Walsh

Between what you do know and what you have just been engaged in, in learning, and we really need all the phases of sleep, deep sleep, stage to sleep and REM sleep in order to consolidate different types of types of learning. So it's not it's not that there's a link between sleep and learning. I would say that that sleep is the most important, the most important part or. Yeah. Of learning that somebody might actually they said, well, what about doing getting the information in itself.

[00:30:12.150] - Vincent Walsh

That's true. But you will never learn properly and deeply if you don't sleep properly. So just to put some flesh on those stages, if you're learning things for, let's say, a medical exam, you've got some anatomical rules to learn or you're learning a new language and you've got new verb structures to try to learn and vocabulary to learn, then you really need deep sleep stage for sleep. That's I think there would be very few sleep researchers who would want to walk back the claim that deep sleep is important for what's called declarative learning, knowing that things are X and things are one.

[00:30:56.640] - Vincent Walsh

If you're learning a skill and that skill could be a musical instrument, it could be it could be a sports skill. It could be learning to, you know, a child, learning to write anything motoric that involves a learning skill. We need stage to sleep for that. And that's, again, I think pretty pretty well established. And for things that require, can I call them more remote links between between things you might call it creative learning or association learning or complex association learning.

[00:31:45.840] - Vincent Walsh

We need REM sleep for that and also reconsolidate emotional memories and in REM sleep as well. The reason that I took you through all three major stages of sleep is that it answers the question. Can I? Is there a Trade-Off between sleep? Quantity and quality is actually not a sensible question because you need all the stages of sleep. So quality is quantity in in that sense you need all aspects of sleep. Yeah.

[00:32:26.910] - Tony Winyard

Is there any evidence to some people who like to listen to maybe like a language as they're dropping off to sleep, because is there any evidence to that?

[00:32:36.090] - Vincent Walsh

No, there's good evidence against it. Having having said that, and I kind of, you know, just in my own personal philosophy, not got much sympathy with people who want that to work. I think, you know, part of the fun of learning things is making an effort.

[00:32:57.620] - Vincent Walsh

And there is evidence, however, that you can help the consolidation of what you learn during the day by prompting it from the outside during sleep. So just to give a targeted reactivation of what I think was quite a lovely example is one group gave subjects in an experiment the things to learn on a computer screen, the location of a vehicle and objects on a computer screen. And while they were doing that, they were exposed to a certain kind of smell.

[00:33:40.800] - Vincent Walsh

Can't remember what the smell was, to be honest. And then in the experiment, what they did was they had people sleep and during slow wave sleep, which they knew was important for this kind of memory, very slow way of sleep. They exposed the people to the smell again. And in another group, they expose people to the smell. But during REM sleep, so not slow wave sleep. And another group, they didn't expose them to the smell during the learning, but given the smell during the slow wave sleep.

[00:34:14.820] - Vincent Walsh

So really all the all the, the, the proper controls. And it was really quite convincing that it is a controlled task. By the way, they give people a skill task to learn and and expose people to the odour for that as well. And it was only the group that had been exposed to the smell during learning and during slow wave sleep who had accelerated or improved performance on that learning. So does that. Am I contradicting myself there?

[00:34:48.360] - Vincent Walsh

Not really, because, you know, you have to do the learning anyway in the first place.

[00:34:56.640] - Vincent Walsh

But that experiment shows is that.

[00:34:59.700] - Vincent Walsh

That during slow wave sleep, the brain is still taking in some information from the outside world. So if you if when the smell comes in, the brain is reacting to that smell and that will react a bit more strongly. Some of the memories of the things that you were learning, learning that day through it strengthens the the association. But I have to say, it's probably still a better idea to just organise your learning and follow good principles of of learning and recall and get normal sleep.

[00:35:33.200] - Vincent Walsh

Know, it's one of the things I get asked a lot because I work on sleep and learning and creativity, which is people want shortcuts. And the best shortcut is seems always to be to do it properly in the first place. What would I mean on that topic of creativity and learning? So what is a good way then of someone who's studying for a particular course and they've got various books that they have required reading for that course and they're reading them and they just not take any information and more is a have you got any suggestions?

[00:36:10.110] - Vincent Walsh

I mean, I do. I in fact, I give a lecture on this to my second year students. And it's interesting because they're there on one of the hardest courses to get in, in UCL, which is one of the hardest universities to get into. And they've taken an option with me, which, you know, I'm I don't think any of my students would say I'm cuddly, I drive them. But it's interesting to unus supersmart that it's interesting to me that they they've never had any instruction on how to learn.

[00:36:51.480] - Vincent Walsh

And yet they're at the top of the education system. And I sometimes think, is it just because it's not because they're good at learning, it's because everybody else is so bad at it. But if there's one thing we know in psychology, neuroscience is how people learn. We can really deliver the hard part like sleep and like diet and exercise as it demands that we take responsibility and and engage. So, yes, we know what the rules are.

[00:37:23.910] - Vincent Walsh

And particularly during covid, I've tried to take this as a as a positive way of doing online lectures and tutorials, seminars with students, which is to say, you know, this is a great opportunity because the external world is no longer giving you structure. It's a great opportunity for you to learn how to structure your your learning, and it will pay dividends and everything. And the first thing is that let's take that example. You gave a student for, for example, what we've all done it.

[00:37:57.540] - Vincent Walsh

What you do is you surround yourself with books on the table and hope that that karma will somehow reward you for sitting amongst them. And you say, I've done three hours revisioning. You haven't you've just sat amongst your books for three hours. So what's a better way of doing it? The first is to to set a limit on what you do. You know, if you go to a lesson, you go to the gym, you go to music, practise, whatever you usually do, you set a time limit for it.

[00:38:28.710] - Vincent Walsh

So why not do that with with learning periods and set a realistic one? If you think how long can you sit down and really concentrate for? I think I think twenty minutes is a pretty good ask, you know. So why not divide your learning sessions up into twenty minutes and a second. Good idea is to have a goal. So people sit down, they read the textbooks and they somehow hope that they again resting on kameda that the structure of the information will land upon them.

[00:39:11.130] - Vincent Walsh

But if you sit down for a 20 minute session, it's a good idea. Said What do I want to know from this twenty minutes? And it can be one thing, it's just one clean concept. And then you know why you're reading. It's astonishing to me how many students don't know why they're reading what they're reading, kind of doing volume and hopping at some things. And then the third thing would be to spend the last few minutes of that twenty minutes asking yourself, you know, just no one and three bullet points.

[00:39:40.980] - Vincent Walsh

What did I learn from this? Twenty minutes. So that's the first thing. Have short sessions with a goal at the start. The next session test yourself. Did I really learn that one of the things I like to do is test myself by by explaining things to people. So whenever I do give a lecture or talk, I you can bet your boots that there's something in there that I'm not really sure about and I'm testing whether I've got the right understanding of it.

[00:40:10.380] - Vincent Walsh

And I think every lecture and I had the experience where you you see a slide come up on the screen, you think, what was I thinking?

[00:40:17.790] - Vincent Walsh

And I like to set up for myself because you don't really understand something until you can explain it to people in plain English. I think that's a fair test of whether you understand something and that bit. So so far, good rules for learning have a fixed period. Twenty minutes. Know what you want to get out of it. Test yourself at the end of the period in the of the next one, whether you got something out of it so that it's an active process.

[00:40:46.440] - Vincent Walsh

The second golden rule. From psychology, this is you know, this is the fantastic new rule that some, you know, enthusiastic, inspirational guru is worked out. This is one hundred years of psychology is to spare your learning out and to interleave it. So do little and often and mix it up in plain English. So 20 minutes of a subject, a 20 minute sort of subject, be 20 minutes of subjects. And if you really have got into that one hour with an entry goal, an exit test, an entry test from the previous 20 minutes, you'll be less fatigued, less frustrated, and you'll be learning more.

[00:41:35.210] - Vincent Walsh

And I think there are there are lots of other good rules from from psychology. But unfortunately, they sometimes conflict with the way we construct education and and the way we like to feel as if we're learning. So one ugly rule of learning is, is that it shouldn't feel good. So people get frustrated when they don't feel as if they're learning. But if I just go back to the lessons to drive home the interleaved point, you know, you wouldn't if you were training for a marathon, you wouldn't go and run 50 miles in the morning and then go and do heavy like squats in the gym in the afternoon because you know that your legs need recovery time to consolidate, if you like, build muscle and restore the energy from that 15 minute.

[00:42:31.910] - Vincent Walsh

And yet we do it all the time in our intellectual pursuits. We think that more is more. But recovery time consolidation, giving the brain time to play with the information is really important. So this is now a really paradoxical thing. But it's it's really super well supported by decades and decades of well replicated experiments. And it's that it's it's best not to give people everything they need to know to learn something. So I'll give you just one example that if you if you give people say you're teaching them how to calculate volumes in maths, if you give one lesson where you absolutely nail it and you have nobody leaves the room until everybody can come to the volume, everybody is happy because including the teacher and a little bit of courage needed from us actually as teachers to to make this work.

[00:43:43.070] - Vincent Walsh

Students feel good because they've got a gold star for learning how to do the volumes. But then you've got another group of people and that next group comes in and the group comes in the next day and they do another set of poems and don't cubes and neither do spheres and make some. But if you compare them with a group of people who jumble them up in in their lessons so that they leave less than one, actually they can't do any of them and they come up for less than two and really still can't do any of these treatments.

[00:44:13.910] - Vincent Walsh

But you test them six months later. And what you find is that the people who did them one at a time and left with a gold star, a feel more confident and B, were happier with their experience than the people that the jumbled up. If you test them six months later, the people with the jumbled up learning are far better than the people. And they were unhappy. They were far better than the people who were more confident and were happier and learnt more quickly.

[00:44:46.040] - Vincent Walsh

Why is that? That's because if you imagine that on day one, you learn 75 percent of something, then your brain has got to do something with that 75 percent. It's got to what do I put this information? And you come back the next day and you learn 75 percent of the seventy five percent you've left the brain with work to do. But if you've so, it makes connexions with all the other concepts and structures, you know, about quantities and maths.

[00:45:13.350] - Vincent Walsh

So you get a much more deeply interconnected form of learning. Whereas if you if you leave the classroom thinking I can do I can do cubes, you know, you kind of what your brain has done, is that right? That's solved. And I just put it in the cube box. But he hasn't got any. Stretch ability and capacity to survive under under stress the people who do this best of all music teachers, because anyone who's learnt a musical instrument will know that the music teacher doesn't let you play a whole piece of music incorrectly, irritatingly stop you after two bars and so on.

[00:45:53.840] - Vincent Walsh

OK, let's do these two bars. And what they do is and then then they move on to another piece of music before you've really learnt that one. So they are spacing and interleaving is one of the reasons. You know, a lot of times people find music lessons frustrating. But I do think it's one of the rare areas in modern education where people are exposed to learning how to learn. And it is I think that's the most valuable thing we can teach people in schools and universities learning how to learn.

[00:46:27.710] - Vincent Walsh

And the reason you got the Weekend University and the reason that I I get to talk to you public talks at all is because we all want to learn more and more throughout our lives. But we've been given very bad strategies, even people with degrees in HD and we have very bad strategies for learning. So I think learning how to learn is really important. So we we we organise things into manageable chunks. We do little non consequential testing of ourselves.

[00:47:01.820] - Vincent Walsh

We have a goal and we mix it up. We do little, little and often. And it might not feel as if you're learning.


But as I tell my students, your feelings really aren't important. Whether you're running or not, that matters to me.

[00:47:22.460] - Tony Winyard

So if I've understood you correctly, then that would suggest that our education system is just not set up in the right way at all.

[00:47:30.470] - Vincent Walsh

Because not only are kids so sick, no. They just be trying to take things in and then they're given homework in the evening as well. Yeah, yeah. No, it's bonkers.

[00:47:39.320] - Vincent Walsh

And it's it's sad because we were always saying that children are the most important thing in society and and there are investment for the future, blah, blah. But to link the two things we've been talking about sleep and learning, we make them go to school at ridiculous hours. Why that historical accident? That's when factories started and historically following from us when shops started and that's when offices started. So we we showed our children to that. But in adolescence, the the circadian master clock shifts.

[00:48:19.640] - Vincent Walsh

So these kids really do need as again, as a population, there's always a morning kid. As a population. They do do better if they can start later in the day. So starting school at ten or eleven o'clock would be a real sign that we're seriously committed to our children's education. Starting school at eight thirty nine is a really serious sign that we are committed to our own routine and that we're happy to make children squeeze into whatever the cost.

[00:48:46.730] - Vincent Walsh

Many studies Australia, the Netherlands, UK, US, tens of thousands of students. If school for teenagers start at 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning, they're happier, which I guess matters that they there's fewer absences, there are fewer disciplinary problems and their exam results are better. And I think we overemphasise exam results. But there is there's no box we don't take as better if children's school starts and starts later. So that's the first thing that links the sleep and learning.

[00:49:26.030] - Vincent Walsh

But to answer your direct question about the way we set up education, it's very end point. Focussed on what you learn at school is you can do very little for eight months of the year. And then you you you take your drink, lots of coffee and stay up very late for a month of the year and you pass exams. And I've then done that subject. But you know how many people actually remember anything about the subjects that they've got an ER star in?

[00:49:57.290] - Vincent Walsh

And it's because the learning hasn't been deep. It's been shallow to that end point. And there's a real catch 22 year for parents. Obviously you want your child to get breast exam results because that's the key to the to the next step. But you also want your child to be best prepared for twenty first century life, which means learning new skills more often than any other generation. And yet the way that we're getting them to learn to advance in the education system is.

[00:50:31.220] - Vincent Walsh

Is not about learning, it's about end point learning, and the sadness there for me is that then learning becomes something you do in order to get X.. And what I think a lot of people learn to appreciate later on is that learning in itself is the fun part. That's the that's the great activity to to be engaged in something, knowing that you're getting a little bit better at it, because as any expert knows, you never do a subject.

[00:51:10.400] - Vincent Walsh

You've never done it. You know, there's always something else to learn.

[00:51:14.270] - Vincent Walsh

So not only are we not giving people the skills in order to learn while and retrain and retool to the most rapidly shifting world ever, we're denying people access to what I think is is one of the real joy in life, which is being able to to learn new things and engage in learning new things. I I don't know what we do about that, to be perfectly honest. I mean, I think the timing of skills is a simple one. If we're committed, we move.

[00:51:51.920] - Vincent Walsh

If you're not committed, you just want to pay lip service to children at school. You don't move. But we've seen during the pandemic that not only can we move, we could stop it all. So after the pandemic, given that we've we've we've kind of had a zero hour on on routines, there is absolutely no excuse now for saying, oh, really weak. We just can't fit school times to 10 or 11. It would disrupt everything.

[00:52:23.630] - Vincent Walsh

We now know that we we don't die if we disrupt everything and it wouldn't disrupt everything, disrupt your mornings.

[00:52:31.370] - Vincent Walsh

So that's and with all the success from those tests that were done or those the research that was done, there was various countries you've mentioned, why then have people not taken action and followed up on that and then changed school times?

[00:52:47.690] - Vincent Walsh

Some have, but it's a it's a big cultural shift. So in London, there's eight million of us and seven thirty in the morning, somebody presses a button and we all play this game called Run Around.

[00:53:01.970] - Vincent Walsh

And, you know, does it's interesting.

[00:53:05.900] - Vincent Walsh

We've managed it at the other end of the scale in certainly in academia and I think in lots of businesses. So we've done things like, you know, we used to have our seminars at five o'clock in the afternoon. That's a really bad idea for anybody who's got to pick children up from school. So we've shifted our seminar times to to allow people to pick their children up from school. So we've we've we've we've we've managed to do it at one end of the day when it makes the lives of the adults better.

[00:53:39.440] - Vincent Walsh

But we were much slower to do it at the other end of the scale where it makes the lives of the of the children better. And, you know, what does it mean? Does it means there'll be no nine o'clock meetings every night?

[00:53:54.710] - Vincent Walsh

Owl in the world is going to say we're at some schools have done it. I think some some local authorities have even even grasped the grasp the nettle. But it's it's it's all it requires is is for people to walk the walk about how important they think children are and education is. And if it's that important, then I think we could make moves towards it.

[00:54:28.690] - Tony Winyard

There's time creeping up on us and is about a thousand more questions I would love to ask you. But so far, so just before we finish. Is there. What was the last book you can think of that really moved you in whatever way?

[00:54:43.270] - Vincent Walsh

Oh, gosh. I mean, it's whatever I'm reading it at the moment. I mean, it's all I do with my time, really. I get moved in different ways, so I'm just looking over at myself now and seeing what's on the side of it, there's a book on the history of logarithms and doesn't sound very you know, it's not the kind of book that as a sex scene, but I always do like to get into the heads of of what things came.

[00:55:16.750] - Vincent Walsh

The people who invented things see where things came from. We do take things for granted, you know, electricity, but then get into the head of Faraday and Maxwell and think what they had to deal with. We we take the atomic structure of the world for granted with lots of people think that they understand the theory of evolution. But to get inside the heads of the scientists and see and try and see it from from from behind their eyes, it's it's really, really humbling.

[00:55:49.540] - Vincent Walsh

As you ask me, what was the most surprising discovery I've made. But, you know, reading about people like Napier and Darwin and Humboldt's, you've got to be very careful about what you do as discovery. So that kind of you can say it's intellectually moving, but I mean, it's it's all inspiring in the same way as an I mean, this kind of a sporting achievement is next to it. Just looking over again as a book about Alma Rose, who was Marla's niece, who grew up as a very exciting and wonderful life as a Viennese, a musician in Vienna, an 18th century, but died in Auschwitz.

[00:56:41.020] - Vincent Walsh

And it's a I mean, there are all sorts of things within that story. But then just I'm looking over it. I can see of the rest is noise by Alec Ross, but by 20th century, 20th century music. And again, people you might think I like this kind of music or that kind of music, but find out where it came from and the struggles, the battles, people have to realise it. But Stravinsky concerts, for example, and much more, even more recently, book on the cello suites.

[00:57:20.560] - Vincent Walsh

The parallel lives in a bar with Casals and the suites themselves. So I'd say I've never not moved by what I read because I I'm actively engaged with it.

[00:57:34.410] - Vincent Walsh

And I'm one of those people who reads with a pencil in his hand.

[00:57:38.590] - Tony Winyard

And this is absolutely fascinating. So, I mean, I told you before, I don't don't listen to podcasts and culture. I've not got into sort of good luck with your.

[00:57:50.320] - Vincent Walsh

It's not that interesting. You can have it.

[00:57:57.430] - Tony Winyard

Next week is Episode 14 with Dr Paul Worrell, who is a specialist in Operating Without Pain. He helps people to have well, he keeps non-surgical techniques to help people lead a life without pain. It's all about resolving issues of pain that people have. In this next week's episode with Dr Paul Worrell, if you did enjoy this episode, want to share it with someone who you feel will get some real value from some of the wisdom that Vincent shared with us.

[00:58:28.240] - Tony Winyard

And see you next week.

[00:58:31.240] - Jingle

Thanks for tuning in to the Habits and Health podcast, where we believe creating healthy habits should be easy. If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on your favourite podcast app. Sign up for email updates and learn about coaching and workshop opportunities at See you next time on the Habits and Health podcast.

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