Did you know that sleep may be crucial for forming long-term memory?
In a study published in the June 2011 issue of Science, University of Washington researchers worked with a special breed of fruit flies that could be induced to sleep on demand. Following a period of training, flies who then underwent 4 hours of induced sleep formed long-term memories of that training. Note that training alone was not enough to trigger memory consolidation—sleep was a necessary component. Flies who trained but did not sleep did not form long-term memories.
The University of Washington study makes fascinating observations about sleep's power to cause memory formation. But if you're wondering how much we can learn from fruits flies, then rest assured that many human studies also show that sleep improves memory and performance.
Proper sleep is easy to incorporate into your lifestyle: consider getting a good night's rest after you've studied for a test, experienced a particularly cherished event, or learned a new name. Sleep may help these novel experiences stick with you.
Not only may sleep help your memory, but lack of sleep may also hurt your health. A 2010 study from Biological Psychiatry found that chronic insomnia may lead to loss of brain volume. Researchers used fMRI scans to examine the brains of 37 human subjects with and without chronic insomnia. Insomniacs had a smaller volumes of gray matter in three brain areas—and the more serious the insomnia, the greater the loss of volume. And a preliminary 2012 study from the Washington University School of Medicine found that poor sleep may be linked to brain plaques found in people with Alzheimer's.
Various studies make a good case for getting a good night's sleep whenever you can. But remember that while sleep may be beneficial, it's only part of the puzzle. Apart from nighttime memory consolidation, you can also work on improving your memory abilities by playing games such as Scrabble and chess.
Learn more on the Lumosity blog.