NOVA scienceNOW: Sleep

Student Handout

Sleep and Memory

Have you ever wondered how a skill, such as playing the piano, typing, swimming, or playing a video game, is learned and becomes nearly automatic? In this activity you'll practice tying a knot that may be new to you, and then you'll investigate the roles practice and sleep play in learning and improving your knot-tying ability.


  1. With your partner, choose one knot on your "Knot Tying with a Twist" handout for both of you to learn to tie. Circle the knot you chose.

  2. Use the illustrations and follow the knot directions to help you learn the steps. Your teacher or another adult can demonstrate.

  3. Once you and your partner have learned how to tie the knot, each of you should accurately tie your own knot 5 times.

  4. Next, you and your partner will take turns timing and scoring (simultaneously) each other's knot tying. Use the timer to find the time it takes to tie the knot. To score, give one point for each tying step accurately accomplished; then total the points. A perfect score for each knot equals five points. Now record your own total time (to the nearest second ) and score for Trial 1.

    Trial 1: Time: __________ Score:__________

  5. Do not practice tying your knot again until you retest yourself right before going to bed that same evening. Have someone time you. Record your time and score for Trial 2.

    Trial 2: Time: __________ Score:__________

  6. The next morning, retest your knot-tying ability. (Your teacher will tell you if this test is to be performed before class or during class.) Record this time and score for Trial 3.

    Trial 3: Time: __________ Score:__________

Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

  1. About how many hours did you sleep last night? Answers will vary.

    Check one of the following statements:

    • I slept well, and I am well rested.
    • I slept somewhere in between well and poorly, and I'm somewhat rested.
    • I slept poorly, and I am tired.
  2. Put your three knot-tying times and scores in order, from lowest to highest.

  3. Consider whether the times and scores suggest that sleep played a role in learning in relation to your knot-tying ability. What factors other than sleep may have influenced results?

  4. Describe the role that practice played in helping you master your knot. While practicing tying your knot, what sorts of questions did you ask yourself? What thoughts did you have that may have helped you be successful?

  5. Analyze the activity and suggest controls that could be included to improve the reliability of results. Then, propose an experiment with additional controls that would increase the accuracy of the results.

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