We know that sleep plays an important role in health, overall mood and the ability to function mentally and physically. Sleep, however, is also necessary for optimal memory retention. While you’re sleeping, your brain is busily organizing the experiences and information of the day. Continue reading to find out how your brain processes memories while you sleep.
According to sleep experts, Dr. Robert Stickgold at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Matthew Walker from the University of California, Berkeley, ample sleep is an essential part of both learning and retaining new information. During the night, our brains process all the data we’ve mentally gathered during the day and commits it to either short-term or long-term memory.
The Importance of Sleep Cycles
The belief is that the various memories from the day get consolidated during the nights different sleep cycles. These cycles consist of three phases, with each lasting roughly 90 minutes: light sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when dreaming takes place and the deep sleep stage.
The non-REM phases of sleep help recharge and prepare the brain for absorbing new information the following day. Lack of sleep, whether intentional or not will result in your learning ability dropping by as much as 40%, thus, pulling an “all-nighter” to study for a big exam or prepare for a presentation is not a good approach for achieving your goals the following day.
When you consider the numerous amounts of information and memories accumulated in a given day, you know it’s impossible to remember everything. However, the initial stage of light sleep gives the brain an opportunity to sift through those details and decide what is worthy of keeping and what is not.
The deep stage of sleep helps to stabilize memories and the REM stage seems to connect related memories together and even enable us to work through strong emotional memories to reduce their intensity. This is why a night of quality sleep can enhance problem-solving skills.
Sleep for the Sake of Your Memory
It’s common for practically everyone to experience an occasional night of lackluster sleep, but if you routinely find yourself sleep deprived, try these tips:
- Avoid caffeine at least 5-6 hours prior to bedtime.
- Reduce your intake of processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates and sugar.
- Have a set bedtime and wake time seven days a week. Routine helps you to physically and mentally prepare for sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is sleep inspiring by using blackout curtains, a white noise machine and removing electronic devices from your nightstand. Think of your bed as the time to remove yourself from daily chaos and sink in between the sheets to relax and prepare for a spectacular brand new day.
Ultimately, sleep is not something you should ever deprive yourself of. Whether you’re a student, manager or entrepreneur, make sure you get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep each night. This will ensure you’re able to learn and retain information at optimal levels while feeling your very best on an ongoing basis.