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The Science of Memory Retention: Sleep Better to Remember Better

02-June-2019

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As adults, we all crave a good night’s sleep. After a tiring day at work, it is the one thing we look forward to once we reach home. Sleeping for 6 to 8 hours straight in the comfort of our mattress always leave us feeling refreshed and ready to face a new day.

However, things were a bit different when we were children right? Many of you would relate to strict bed timings on school days and how much you used to look forward to staying up late once in a while. While you whined about your parents and their rules, sleep researchers came up with a perfect explanation of the importance of sleep.

It is safe to say that whether you are young or old, healthy sleep puts you in the right state of mind, facilitating memory retention by enhancing memory stability through a process called consolidation. Waking up from the comfort of your mattress after a well-rested sleep will leave you with a clear brain and better focus. An alert brain helps learn, process and remember information and use cognitive abilities to make the right decision. On the other hand, when we are sleepy, we tend to be less productive and make mistakes.

In this blog, we will discover how sleep plays a key role in long-term memory consolidation and retention.

Sleep phases and brain activity

Sleep researcher Dr Thomas Andrillon observed 28 participants during their sleep, to understand the correlation between sleep phases and brain activity. He monitored and recorded the brain electrical activity of his research participants with the help of an electroencephalogram (EEG).

The study revealed that the brain is capable of not only retaining memory but has the ability to delete, suppress and unlearn memories as well. While a human brain is able to consolidate and retain memories during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep and during light non-REM (NREM) sleep, it has the unique ability to suppress memories and unlearn things during deep non-REM (NREM) sleep.

Sleep and memory retention

As mentioned before, sleep and memory are deeply connected. The brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to retrace new connections between neurons help in forging new pathways, which help in learning new information. During sleep, our synapses relax and regain plasticity, which helps the brain to create new connections.

Various studies show that while sleeping, memories and skills are shifted to other parts of the brain, making the memory permanent. Related studies further show that things people learn just before going to sleep or even before taking a short nap are remembered and retained as long term memory.

Sleep also has the ability to synthesise new ideas by piecing together various information and experiences together. This explains why people are suddenly struck with great ideas just as they wake up and step out of their bed.

While the studies on sleep and it’s correlation to memory continues, we must turn our focus to getting the right amount of sleep in the best way possible. So, switch off the lights, keep away from your smartphones and fall back into your mattress on time for a good night of sleep.

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