Most of us can speak from experience that when we’ve had a bad night’s sleep, we are left feeling groggy and struggle to concentrate the next day. Research has shown that our bad sleeping habits are in fact negatively affecting our memory. Have you noticed a change in the way you’re processing and remembering information? This could have something to do with the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting.

Healthy sleep is crucial for forming both short and long-term memories, absorbing and recalling information. Not only does sleep give your body time to rest and recharge, it is also vital to your brain’s ability to learn and remember. While we sleep our brain processes information from the day to form memories. If you are sleep deprived your ability to learn and retain new information may be decreased. For example, people who stay up all night the night before an exam often do worse, as they haven’t had the sleep they need to then recall that information the next day. So, next time you’re thinking of staying up all night cramming for that exam remember your memory will be better off by getting a good night’s sleep. Being well rested you’re more likely to feel better, perform better, and to remember more!

There are two different ways lack of sleep effects our memory and learning. Firstly, a sleep deprived person will find it hard to focus and learn efficiently. Secondly, sleep itself plays a role in the strengthening of memory, which is essential for learning new information. For something to become a memory, three functions must occur:

  • Acquisition – learning or experiencing something new
  • Consolidation – the memory becomes stable in the brain
  • Recall – having the ability to access the memory in the future

Acquisition and recall are both functions that take place when we are awake. Memory consolidation takes place while we sleep. Our brain processes new information and transfers it into longer term storage (ready to recall).

Did you know that when you sleep your brain is cycling through five different stages? There are two main types of sleep; rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep. Each stage is uniquely important in getting quality sleep, and it is said that memories appear to be formed in all three sleep stages; light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. This is why it is important to have uninterrupted healthy sleep, so each sleep cycle is being achieved.

Young people can often have the misconception that sleep isn’t as important to them, that it only becomes important as we get older, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Research shows that good sleep during your youth and middle age will help protect against age related declines such as problems with memory, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. By sleeping well now, you are making a long-term investment in the health of your memory as you age.

Healthy sleep is essential for learning new information and memory functions. It is important that each night you are getting the recommended 7-9 hours sleep that your body and brain needs.

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