Want to improve your memory? Then sleep on it!
There’s a reason that no one says to stay awake to solve a problem. That’s because people generally know that sleeping on it often results in coming up with the solution to the problem the next day. That’s the connection between sleep, brain function and memory.
While many people desire to improve their memory and how their brain handles problems, few know that the way to do this is actually quite simple. Get a good night’s sleep – or a decent nap.
We need a good night’s sleep to process and retain that information over a long period of time. With one in five American adults showing signs of chronic sleep deprivation, inadequate sleep is a widespread public health problem. And this means memory and brain function are being negatively impacted.
So how does all of this work?
The sleep-memory connection
When you sleep, this triggers changes in the brain that solidify memories, strengthening connections between brain cells and transferring information from one brain region to another.
A recent study conducted in Massachusetts indicated that sleeping enhances the brain’s ability to retain memories for a longer time than wakefulness.
You may think that when you are sleeping, your brain is probably resting too. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When you sleep, your brain is still working hard, processing your entire day. It sorts, files and even makes connections between all your experiences of the day.
Researchers believe that while we sleep, memories and skills are shifted to more efficient and permanent brain regions, making for better recall the next day. In fact, sleeping shortly after learning new information has been shown to help retention. Some research indicates that when people learn before going to sleep (or even before taking a nap), they remember the information better over time.
But getting a good night’s sleep goes beyond just helping you remember better the next day.
Synthesizing new ideas
Many say they get the best ideas while in the shower…but we would argue that it happens in the bed while sleeping! Sleep helps us bring together or create new ideas, not just remember old ones. While you are sleeping, the brain pulls together many ideas and pieces of knowledge from various experiences to help you figure out the solution to a problem you have been wrestling around for days. If you’ve ever woken up and been resolute in what you need to do to resolve a specific issue at work, school or in your personal life, you’ve experienced this power of sleep (keep a notebook by your bed to capture that great idea right away!).
Cementing what you learn
As mentioned already, sleep is a great technique for helping to get new skills, concepts or strategies more firmly cemented into our memory banks. These new ideas are transferred to the brain’s more permanent regions when you are asleep. Research even suggests that learning something and going to sleep right away – even if only for a nap – helps to improve the memory of what you just learned. Scientists refer to this as memory consolidation, a means of taking a recently acquired memory and filing it away into the more permanent, long-term memory bank.
Whatever you have experienced just before drifting off to sleep is replayed by the brain and new neuron connections are built. These connections help in creating long-term memories of your experiences.
Getting that good night’s sleep
If we’ve convinced you of the power of sleep on your memory, the next logical question is how to get proper, deep sleep for the brain functioning you desire. Start with the basics:
- Make sure you’ve got the right sleep habits, ones that encourage rather than inhibit good quality sleep.
- Check your sleep environment, including the room, bed, mattress, bedding and even lighting and noise levels.
- Consider making changes to either one – sleep habits or environment
If you’ve checked these boxes but still struggle to sleep well, consider that you could have sleep apnea or something else at play that is preventing you from getting enough, quality sleep. You may want to check with your physician and consider participating in a sleep study to get answers.
So, take advantage of the proof that sleep can have positive effects on your cognitive powers, the fact is that a restful and that a peaceful sleeping pattern helps you be more active and attentive during the day. Sleep on it – and sharpen your memory, problem-solving and creative thinking!