While we already know the many ways that the sleeping third of our lives affects the waking two thirds. It turns out, this plays a huge role in how we remember the waking hours. Research is finding more and more, that our sleep is largely responsible for our memories, from recording them, to using and recalling them. We’ve all had late night cram sessions for an unprepared for exam, staying up too late trying to get that last bit of information to stick. But, as it turns out, the sleep we’re missing out on may be what we need, to keep that info in our memory banks… oops.
To find out more about this link between our waking and sleeping lives, let’s talk about the parts of memory and what they have to do with sleep. There are 3 parts of learning and memory. Acquisition is the introduction of new information to the brain. Secondly, consolidation is how memories become stable in our brains and how they’re put into perspective and then stored. Lastly, there’s recall or our ability to access information, whether consciously or unconsciously after it’s been stored. Acquisition and recall happen mostly when we’re awake, but consolidation takes place during those periods of sleep. So, all the things we learn when we’re awake must get sorted through and filed appropriately. Luckily, this is exactly what our brains are doing for us when we’re getting some shut eye, whether it’s sleeping through the night or even just napping.
Lighter sleep and REM sleep (where most of our dreams happen), is where we deal with more emotionally charged or important events and information, as well as our procedural memory aka ‘how we do stuff’. Our deeper, slow wave sleep is where the rest of the facts and info is encoded, so it’s necessary for us to go through the full spectrum of sleep while we’re out cold.
You can see the opposite effects when that good night’s rest doesn’t happen, as when you are sleep deprived. Studies across the board show that when sleep deprived, people have trouble focusing, have an impaired ability to interpret events and make sound decisions based on our interpretations. When we are sleep deprived we also lose our ability to access previously learned information, so our memory recall goes out the window. This can also negatively impact our mood.
The good news is that all these negative effects can be negated, simply by getting enough quality rest. If you want to improve your memory, getting adequate sleep will help. So, if you know someone who just remembers everything, chances are they’re a great sleeper. I’m not saying that cramming for a test doesn’t help, just make sure it happens earlier, long enough for you to cram in some important snoozing. That’s one thing to be sure to remember.
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