The Connection Between Sleep And Your Memory
By Paul Gardner
Getting the right amount and quality of sleep is paramount for optimum memory and recall. This article explains the causes of poor sleep and how you can improve it.
Sleep And Your Memory
There is an exceptionally strong connection between sleep and your memory. When you get a goods night sleep you wake up feeling fresh, energised and ready for the day.
It’s not uncommon to go to bed with problem weighing heavily on your mind, only to wake up the following day with a solution. This is because while you are asleep your brain is actually rather busy.
Your brain contains its own lymphatic system which is called the glymphatic system. While you are asleep it works to help clear toxins that build up during the day, it is also busy repairing brain cells, creating new cells and basically re-organising itself.
Experts tell us that it is this act of reorganisation that plays crucial role in memory consolidation.
Memories occur through a three phase process.
These are as follows:
Acquisition – The first part of the memory process occurs while we are awake, it is the information that we take in while trying to remember or learn certain facts. These can be from the sights we see, sounds we hear, smells, people we meet – our brains are constantly receiving and processing information.
Consolidation – The second phase occurs during both waking and sleeping hours, while we are awake, the process of solidifying data starts in in our minds.
But its when we are asleep that the memory becomes well and truly imprinted in our mind.
It’s not just any sleep either, memories tend not to form while we are in light or disturbed sleep. It is while we are in REM ( Rapid Eye Movement) Stage of sleep that our memories are truly formed. It is also the stage where we mostly tend to dream.
Recall – This phase refers to the ability to access and remember a memory after you have stored it.
You may have heard of the saying ‘sleep on it’, well experts tell us that this is the best way to form and securely store new memories.
How Much Sleep Is Needed For Maximum Mental Performance
The link between memory, cognitive performance and sleep is well defined. Studies have been carried out that confirm this as fact.
One study followed 104 medical students who all had poor sleeping habits. They all experienced reduced academic performance as a result of their disturbed sleep.
A similar study followed teenage students, and it was found that this who got too little sleep for their age performed far worse than those who slept well.
Many used the extra time awake to study more, but even so, they still failed to perform as well as the ones who got sufficient sleep.
There a lot of us (myself included) who claim that they can get by on a few hours sleep, but expert doctors all agree that we should be getting at least 7 hours per night and preferably up to 9.
Why Sleep Benefits Us So Much
There are many benefits that can be gained by getting sufficient sleep, these can include:
- Improved patience and happiness
- Better memory
- Better Moods
- Improved attention span
- Increased sports and athletic performance
- Improved health and body weight.
It’s not uncommon to become impatient, irritable and unfocussed if you do not get enough sleep.
Just one night of bad sleep can be just as detrimental to your memory as being intoxicated through too much alcohol.
If you cannot focus, its very difficult to even reach the first stage of the memory process (acquisition).
Without following the correct stages of memory consolidation you can never expect to actually form a memory and keep it stored securely.
Sleep, Memory and Stress
These three things are intrinsically linked. One of the main reasons why people do not sleep that well is stress, and memory loss is an early sign that you are under stress.
When you are stressed, the electrical impulses i the brain responsible for the formation of memories get weaker.
Stress also releases the stress hormone cortisol, and this contributes to a number of things including insomnia, and memory loss to name just two.
Even one nights spoiled sleep due to stress can compound the problem the following day, this can lead to a vicious circle of sleepless nights, reduced memory and more stress.
Low impact exercises such as yoga, tai chi and mediation can all help alleviate the effects of stress.
Prescription Sleeping Pills
If you consult your doctor regarding your sleeping problems, there is every chance that they will prescribe you with some drug based sleeping pills.
Now these can effective in the very short term, but one side effect of these is that they can and will cause memory loss.
There have been cases of people actually getting up and walking down the street, or even getting into their car and driving in their sleep without remembering anything about it.
Even OTC treatments fare no better…..Many contain antihistamines which are known to cause memory loss and even mental confusion.
One very large study showed that seniors who regularly take products high in antihistamines (Benadryl was one product mentioned) have a greater risk of developing dementia and alzheimers.
OTC products like these contain certain ingredients that block acetylcholine, which is the main neurotransmitter linked to memory and learning.
How To Improve Your Sleep And Get A Better Memory
Ensuring that you have a perfect memory is no mean feat, but experts have concluded that getting sufficient sleep can more than help to strengthen memory and learning ability.
Here are some simple hints and tips to help boost your sleep and memory
Get Enough Sleep
Determine the right amount of sleep that you require and try to get it every night, most people need a minimum of 7 hours, some up to 9.
If you get too much, you can be left feeling groggy and not mentally alert.
Let Your Body Guide You
If it can be avoided, try to avoid the need for an alarm, let your body wake up when its ready. Coming out of a sleeping cycle naturally actually allows your brain to fully process and consolidate the previous days memories.
If you need an alarm to wake up, you are not sleeping for long enough, try to get to bed earlier until you are at a stage where you wake up naturally without the alarm going off.
Keep Away From Your Tablet, Phone Or Laptop
Most of spent great deal of time staring into the screen of one device or another, this can have a dramatic effect on our natural circadian rythmn,
Try to use a night mode if available on your device ( one that limits blue light) and also turn the device off at least an hour before you go to bed
Don’t Spend All Night Working Or Learning
Even if you have a deadline or are cramming for an exam, do NOT spend all night working. Its been proven that facts learnt in an ‘over nighter’ are generally forgotten very quickly.
Study or work hard by all means but make sure you get the full 7-9 hours after to make sure your memory consolidates everything you have learnt.
Recognise These Red Flags
Everyday problems such as bad moods and forgetfulness are classic signs of poor sleeping, but there are some serious sides to it too.
Any sign of mental illness, depression or severe insomnia should never be ignored, always go to see your doctor should major memory problems occur even after periods of good sleep
To Sum Up
Science has proven that sleeping and our memory go hand in hand, you cannot have a good memory without sufficient sleep.
Getting less than 7 hours per night will not only reduce your cognitive performance, it can reduce your moods and effect your overall mental health.
A severe lack of sleep can even contribute to serious memory loss such as the effects of alzheimer’s and similar conditions.
I would always advice that you avoid drug based sleeping pills, but a good natural sleep supplement could make a huge difference. Whats more they are generally safe to take without causing side effects or carry risks of dependancy.