Getting A Good Night's Sleep May Help Improve Memory

If you're used to pulling all-nighters before the day of an important exam, you may want to re-think your habits.

A new study in the United Kingdom revealed that getting decent shut-eye is truly imperative because during sleep, the brain is hardwired to sort through the huge chunks of experiences, filling the memory with important information.

The findings, which were discovered by researchers from University of Bristol's Center for Synaptic Plasticity, offer further evidence of the positive effects of a good night's sleep.

Scientists said the findings are important because sleep deprivation among the healthy population and people with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease lead to impaired cognitive functions.

According to the study featured in the journal Cell Reports, the patterns of brain activity that occur during daytime are replayed at fast-forward during sleep. This replay happens in the region of the brain called the hippocampus, the central filing system for our memories.

Bristol researchers found that the replay during sleep strengthens the microscopic connections between active nerve cells. This process is critical for fortifying memories. Thus, by choosing which daytime activity patterns are replayed, the brain during sleep can sort and retain vital information.

"It also seems that the successful replay of brain activity during sleep is dependent on the emotional state of the person when they are learning," said Jack Mellor, lead researcher of the study. "This has major implications for how we teach and enable people to learn effectively."

Mellor and his team of researchers are from the university's School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience. The study was supported by Wellcome Trust, the MRC, EPSRC and Eli Lilly & Co.

Meanwhile, previous studies have found the link between improved memory and a good night's sleep.

A study published in January 2015 revealed that it is the memory consolidation activity of the brain's neurons that actually put us to sleep.

Researchers from Brandeis University examined fruit flies and found that when the insect's dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons - a well-known memory consolidator - were activated, the insects slept more. When they were deactivated, the insects were more awake. The activation and deactivation occurs in the fruit fly's brain known as the mushroom body, which is similar to the hippocampus.

Another research issued in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory in November 2015 found that people were able to remember new information better if they were able to sleep at least eight hours following the encounter.

The takeaway is this: sleep more and you'll remember better.

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | Flickr

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