Sleep Deprivation and Memory Loss


What Happens When You Sleep?

Scientists don't know exactly how sleep enhances memory, but it appears to involve the brain's hippocampus and neocortex -- the part of the brain where long-term memories are stored. It is thought that during sleep, the hippocampus replays the events of the day for the neocortex, where it reviews and processes memories, helping them to last for the long term.

Researchers continue to investigate the stages of sleep involved in making certain types of memories. Some studies have shown that certain kinds of memories become stable during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep -- the time when you dream. Other studies have found that some types of memories are most often secured during slow-wave, deep sleep. Scientists are getting closer to understanding what sleep does to our brain, but there are still many questions to be answered.

What’s certain is that sleep is a biological necessity -- we need it to survive. Unfortunately, in this day and age, few of us are able to get the sleep we need to function our best. Experts recommend adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Although this may not be attainable every night, it should be the goal.

Sleep Tips

Here are some tips to help you get more sleep:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Get regular exercise, but do not exercise close to bedtime. Experts recommend allowing at least three hours between exercise and bed.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before going to sleep.
  • Take time to unwind before going to sleep. Take a warm bath, read a book, drink some caffeine-free tea, and avoid any activities that can cause tension.
  • Finish eating two to three hours before going to bed.
  • Create a pleasant sleeping environment: make the room dark, cool, and comfortable.
  • Use a sound machine, or other type of white noise device, to block out unwanted sounds.
  • Do not watch TV or use the computer in bed. Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including getting regular and quality sleep, can be a challenge, especially when you are stressed with a work deadline or test. But, remember (and you need sleep to do this!), sleep is your friend. So, when it comes to learning and memory, sleep on it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 30, 2015



Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School: "Healthy Sleep: Sleep, Learning, and Memory," "Sleep and Disease Risk."

American Academy for Sleep Medicine: "Sleep: Nature's Study Aid."

National Sleep Foundation: "Healthy Sleep Tips," "How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?" "How to Improve Your Memory."

Harrison, Y. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2000.

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