Can you remember the last time you got a good night’s sleep? Memory loss is directly related to not getting enough sleep. During sleep, your body rests and recharges, and this period is crucial for the functionality of your brain’s cognitive processes.
There are three different types of memories: fact-based, episodic, and instructional. Fact based is the ability to remember things such as sports statistics or birthdates, whereas episodic memories include events in your life, like your first roller coaster ride, or your last vacation. Instruction memories are based on remember how to perform a certain task, like playing the guitar or tying your shoes.
Regardless of which type of memory you have, there are three specific functions that describe the memory process. Two of the processes, acquisition, the introduction of new information, and recall, the ability to access the stored information, happen when you are awake. However, when you sleep, your body performs a function of stabilizing memories in your brain, known to researches as consolidation. Without an appropriate amount of sleep, it is difficult for your brain to recall new information and process the memories made throughout the day. During memory consolidation, the neural connections of our memories are strengthened due to specific brainwave characteristics that occur during REM sleep.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is the state in which dreaming occurs most often. While the specific science behind memory enhancement through sleep is not completely known, it is proven that it involves communication between different parts of the brain, the neocortex and hippocampus. During REM sleep, the hippocampus relives the day for the neocortex, which processes the daily moments and turn them into stored memories.
Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on learning and memory capabilities. Aside from lack of focus, attention and mental readiness, sleep deprivation makes it difficult for the brain to receive new information and process it efficiently enough to convert it to stored memories. It’s also possible to lose previously known information while being sleep deprived, because the over-worked neurons cannot rest and refuel.
So what can you do to help give the brain a rest? A good night’s sleep is essential. Allowing your body to complete various sleep cycles will set the way for a good day overall, allowing your memories, mood, and cognitive functions to be at the utmost performance possible.
Even a nap can help a mid-day memory lapse. Research has shown that information is most fragile when it is first recorded by the brain and sent to the hippocampus. There, information is subjected to possible overwriting, and a nap can boost this newly acquired information to the neocortex where it can be stored and later converted to memory during a REM sleep cycle.
Aside from the basic scientific proof that better sleep equals better memory, it’s also worth considering that better sleep generally leads to a healthier body. Now that you’ve learned all this information about how sleep affects your memory, you need to go to sleep. It’ll help you remember.