Sleep More to Forget Less

HammockA study presented this week at the Forum of European Neuroscience conference in Geneva, Switzerland suggests that a good night’s sleep can improve memory.

For the study, researchers from the University of Geneva in Switzerland enlisted 32 volunteers to each learn a new skill, such as following a moving dot on a computer screen using a joy stick. Participants were then divided into two groups: the first was allowed to sleep for eight hours and the second was deprived of sleep or only permitted to take a short nap.

To assess the impact of these sleep patterns on the brain, researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brain activity of participants as they repeated the tasks that they had learned the previous days.

According to the researchers, those who had slept properly the previous night performed better on the skills, a finding that was also reflected in their brain activity. Specifically, the researchers reported that in those that were not sleep deprived, there was more activity in certain regions of the brain associated with learning and memory.

Noting that it has long been thought that sleep is essential for clarifying thinking, lead researcher Dr. Sophie Schwartz notes that the data proves that “a period of sleep following a new experience can consolidate and improve subsequent effects of learning from the experience. This improvement comes from changes in brain activity in specific regions that code for relevant features of the learned material.” As such, she suggests that getting a good night’s sleep can help the brain “harden up weak memories which otherwise might fade in time.”

Schwartz notes, however, that the study did not determine how much sleep was necessary for optimal memory retention, and also suggested that fluctuations in sleep cycle or structure – such as those created by sleep aids – may also impact memorization.

Here at MDA we’ve long touted the benefits of sleep (here, here, and here, for example), but let this serve as (yet more) proof that your Great Aunt Gilda was right when she told you that there wasn’t too much that a good night’s sleep couldn’t fix. To name a few off the top of our (well-rested) heads, sleep is essential for allowing the mind to rest and recuperate and is also, quite frankly, associated with a better mood (you can thank the release of feel-good hormone melatonin for that one). Sleep also gives worn-out muscles the time necessary to rest and repair and allows time for the release of hormones associated with fat loss.

In short, sleep is associated with a better mind, a better mood and a better body, so this weekend, make an appointment to get your snooze on and sign up for a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep or, if that’s simply not possible in your house, carve out some time for a lazy afternoon nap.

We promise you, it will really pay off come Monday morning.

nndosi Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Benefits of Short Breaks

Naps are a Sensible Vice

Fasting May Stave Off Jet Lag

TAGS:  mental health

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