Memory and Sleep

Leah Health Guide
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    Recently I read an article which has given me food for thought.  I found it on MSN on their Sleep Disorders site.  It involved a study done in the Netherlands about the effect of  nighttime noise on memory.  I believe its findings should be considered in my quest to maintain my memory level…


    I love to sleep to the drone of the TV.  When I take naps, I turn on QVC on the TV and immediately fall asleep…news shows are good, too.  (I’m sure my husband would prefer that I sleep through all QVC shows—but that doesn’t happen.  QVC and I are on a first name basis!)  At night, my husband and I fall asleep to music, but it goes off after an hour.  I would prefer to listen to news all night (WTOP) while I sleep, but it would drive my husband crazy.  Knowing all this, I suppose you can see the connection I felt with the study from the Netherlands.  I am rethinking my sleeping habits now…

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    The study involves “slow-wave” sleep, when the electrical signals between the cells in our brain slow down resulting in the deeper stages of sleep.  We need this deeper sleep to wake up feeling rested the next morning.  Researchers were able to reduce the amount of deeper sleep the participants experienced without decreasing their total amount of sleep.  Wearing a specialized cap which detected brain waves, whenever the participants entered the slow-wave sleep, a computer under the bed started beeping loud enough to move the participants from the slow-wave sleep into a higher sleep level,  but not loud enough to awaken the participants.  The participants slept as long, but not as deeply as usual.


    The question was:  Will this result in forgetfulness the next day?


    The researchers used a brain scanner the next day to track activity in the hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain.  Participants looked at 50 new pictures.  Hippocampus activity was more sluggish after a night of shallow sleeping.  Memory was lessened.  When shown 100 pictures, 50 from the previous day, and 50 new ones, study participants remembered less and forgot more.  On the average, they remembered five fewer pictures.  They also reported five pictures as “new” after a night of shallow sleep.  Memory formation, the process of the brain capturing an experience into memory, was affected by poor sleep.  This is the first study to link slow-wave sleep to encoding, or memory formation.  Finding: Without an adequate time of slow-wave sleep, the brain will be more sluggish.


    Sooo, what does this tell me?  Falling to sleep to an hour of music is okay.  Sleeping to the TV or radio is not.  Since I am doing all I can to improve my memory, I am changing my sleep habits.  I will sleep in a quiet room.  I will encourage slow-wave sleep…to wake refreshed and ready to remember all I can!

Published On: May 06, 2009