Skip to content

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Strengthen Memory While You Sleep

Sleep May Be Prime Time for the Brain to Consolidate Memories
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 24, 2007 -- While you sleep, your brain may strengthen the memories you made during the day.

That's according to a study due to be presented on May 2 in Boston at the American Academy of Neurology's 59th annual meeting.

The researchers -- who included Jeffrey Ellenbogen, MD, a neurologist and fellow in sleep research at Harvard Medical School -- studied 48 healthy adults aged 18-30.

Ellenbogen's team split participants into four groups. Participants in all four groups memorized word pairs.

One group was tested on the word pairs at the end of the day. Another group took the same test the following morning, after sleeping at home. Their test scores were similar.

Distracting the Mind

The remaining two groups got an extra challenge. Right before the test, they saw another set of word pairs that was very similar to the word pairs they had memorized.

Those participants were tested on both sets of word pairs. The point was to see whether their memory was distracted by the new set of word pairs.

The students who slept at home before the tests performed best. They correctly identified about three-quarters of the word pairs.

In comparison, the students who took the test before going home for the evening correctly identified about one-third of the word pairs.


"This is the first study to show that sleep protects memories from interference," Ellenbogen says in an American Academy of Neurology news release.

"These results provide important insights into how the sleeping brain interacts with memories: It appears to strengthen them," he says. "Perhaps, then, sleep disorders might worsen memory problems seen in dementia."

  • What is the worst thing that stops you from sleeping? Talk about it on webMD's message boards.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
 
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
 
senior man
Article
boy hits soccer ball with head
Slideshow
 
Graphic of active brain
Article
Vaccine and needle
VIDEO
 
brain illustration stroke
Slideshow
human brain
Article
 
most common stroke symptoms
Article
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
Quiz