Sleep Sharpens Your Memory

A good night’s sleep is important for many reasons and researches have found another good reason why it is so important to rest calmly during the night. Your memory sharpens during sleep, when your brain puts all the information you acquired during the day in order. This phenomenon has been investigated for years now and a new study published in the Journal for Experimental Psychology consolidated that we are learning during sleep.

In this recent study people were asked to learn words associated to others and recall them a day after. It was found that those that had a good night sleep had a significantly improved ability to remember than those who had not slept well.

This study confirms many other studies that have been performed previously. It is striking to note, that the study was performed twice, using the same individuals but swapping the roles, i.e. those with a bad night’s sleep previously were granted a good night’s sleep the second time. The results showed the same results in both cases with those that had slept well performing much better in the memory tests.

It is generally known that pupils and students perform better in exams if they have slept well during the nights leading to exams. However, what is probably more interesting, is the question what ware the effects on memory and cognitive functions long-term. There is emerging evidence now, that long-term sleep deprivation has very deleterious effects on short-and long-term memory functions. Sleep has a profound effect on both procedural (how to do things) and declarative (facts and knowledge) memory and all phases of sleep are important, including REM and non-REM sleep. Thus, napping for a few hours here and there is not efficient enough to compensate. The brain needs full sleep cycles to process information, a god night’s sleep in other words. This adds a new dimension on the importance of sleep.

There are many factors that influence sleep, but broadly they can be divided into physical and psychological factors.

Physical factors include things like back pains, diet, temperature, noise etc.; in other words your environment. That can be adjusted easily in many cases. Often a better mattress helps or consulting a physiotherapist if you experience pains when you lay down. In any case, you should tackle these issues as an important sleep is vital.

Psychological factors can include stress, relationship problems, problems at work etc. Often we underestimate what profound effects these factors have on our sleep.

If you are interested to get some tips on how to prepare yourself for a better sleep, you can read Sloan Sheridan-Williams’ article here.

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About Sebastian Müller

Sebastian Müller was born and raised in Leipzig/Germany and moved to England as an adolescent. He is a trained research chemist and geneticist and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut Curie in Paris/ France working in cancer research. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and is still actively involved at the university today. He is fluent in English, German and French and has many fortés and interests including science, philosophy, linguistics, history, competitive sports such as rowing, fitness and nutrition. He is a freelance writer also drawing from his experience as an author in peer-reviewed scientific journals. "I love writing and putting my thoughts down on paper. The written word to me is one of the most powerful ways of conveying thoughts and initiating discussions."
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