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How Sleep Improves Your Memory

Memory like a sieve? Put your mind at rest. Sleep protects your memories from being forgotten, as Bed Guru explains...

1st June, 2017
by Carl Walsh

Memory like a sieve? Put your mind at rest.

A full night of uninterrupted sleep protects your memories from being forgotten – making them clearer and easier for you to bring to mind. Researchers everywhere agree that sleep improves your memory, from the University of Massachusetts to the University of Exeter and the Basque Center for Cognition and Brain Language. Find out how their brainboxes can improve yours…

The Science Bit

Your brain’s more likely to store memories long term that are important and could impact your future. Your prefrontal cortex tags important memories throughout the day. And when you sleep, your mind whirls into action, converting these experiences into long term memories.

Here’s what’ll happen when you lie in bed tonight. First, your hippocampus replays the day’s action around 90 minutes after you drift off – during the REM stage of sleep. Your neocortex reviews and processes your most important memories, making new connections in your brain which helps you store and remember them. When your alarm goes off in the morning you should remember or perform what you’ve learnt much better and easier. 

How to improve your memory with sleep

1. Get at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep

The final three stages of sleep (deep or slow-wave and REM) are crucial to your short-term memory – it’s when you understand your day, save memories and make connections. Without experiencing this deep sleep, your memory could suffer – chronic sleep deprivation makes you forgetful. So make sure your current bed and mattress supports you properly and comfortably. .

In fact, women who slept five hours or less achieved lower scores on memory tests at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, than ladies who got their five hours’ shuteye. Scientists are starting to understand how different stages of sleep could preserve different types of memories – perhaps some are good for remembering new facts and others are good for new habits.

2. Sleep before tests – after learning new info or skills

Great news, students. You’re better off having a snooze after learning, than staying awake to study. Sleep could double your chance of remembering facts that you forget when you learnt them, according to a study by Nicholas Dumay at the University of Exeter. People who slept remembered more new words than they did immediately after they were taught them.

See, your brain makes synaptic connections when you sleep, storing your memories and, arguably, making you smarter.

3. Nap for an hour after lunch

Got a kind boss, part time job or rebellious streak? Improve your thinking and memory skills with an afternoon nap that could help your brain perform like it was five years younger. Germany’s University of Lubeck noticed that people who took a nap after looking at picture cards remembered 85% of the pictures, compared to 60% by those who stayed awake. A small, but significant improvement in memory. 

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