Effects of Sleep on Memory

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I imagine that we've all heard that in order to do well on a test we need sleep. Teachers have always stressed that sleep is important to doing well. There's the obvious part to it: it's hard to pay attention and learn when you're half awake. But there's also the important part of how sleep plays a vital role in memory retention.
When people are tired and lacking sleep they can't focus at optimal levels. Research has shown that the memory circuits may also get fatigued as well. Neurons can become overworked and lose ability to properly form memories and access previously learned information. Both of these will dampen just how well people can remember things. Fortunately a large part of memory formation requires no effort from us at all. All we have to do is sleep.
Sleep is an integral part to the memory process. While we sleep, our brain starts to process the information we learned. Memories are stored by the connections between brain cells, and during our slumber, the connections that form the basis for our memories become strengthened. It is also the time where the brain is sorting the information that we've learned. Different sleep stages are also involved in processing different types of memories.
Lack of sleep has been shown to have many negative effects on judgment and performance. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters have both been attributed to some degree with sleep deprivation. It's also been associated with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and space shuttle challenger explosion. When people can't properly access memories, they can't perform their tasks with the precision that they could if rested.
There's not a whole lot to debate about whether or not a good night sleep will affect performance, but what is not known is the effects of loss of REM sleep on memory. It's been shown that people who have to take medication that suppresses REM sleep have not reported a significant loss in memory. In a study with mice, after going through a complicated maze, the REM sleep of the mice increased. Some believe that it's the increase in demand on the brain's processing while others believe that it's just due to the stress of the task.

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This page contains a single entry by brady198 published on October 23, 2011 11:33 PM.

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