Healthy Living

Sleep Protects Our Memories In More Ways Than One

Just in case you needed more incentive to snooze.

A solid night's sleep is known to protect your memories from bouts of forgetfulness -- and now we know it's making them more accessible, too.

New research from the University of Exeter and the Basque Centre for Cognition, Brain and Language is taking our understanding of the relationship between sleep and the brain's memory functions to the next level, exploring the idea that memories could be enhanced and made more available for use the following day.

"Sleep almost doubles our chances of remembering previously unrecalled material," researcher Nicolas Dumay said in a statement. "The post-sleep boost in memory accessibility may indicate that some memories are sharpened overnight. This supports the notion that, while asleep, we actively rehearse information flagged as important."

For their research, Dumay and his team tracked subjects' memories of unique nonsense words that they were exposed to either before a full night's sleep or an equal-length period of being awake. The subjects were asked to recall the nonsense words immediately after hearing them and then again after the period of sleep or wakefulness.

The researchers found that sleep was actually more successful than wakefulness in helping subjects rescue their memories of the words. Dumay thinks that this memory boost comes from the hippocampus, which is in charge of "unzipping" recent information and replaying it to other parts of the brain to create a captured memory.

While more research is needed to understand the functional significance of this finding, Dumay's work is a step in the right direction. Another recent study was able to qualify the opposite effect -- that a lack of sleep can make it harder to remember and recall what you already know. Clearly there's no denying that sleep it crucial for a healthy brain, and now we have even more proof that it's essential for strong memory retention and accessibility as well.

Signs You Need More Sleep