Posted on January 11, 2017

Sleep: The ultimate memory protector and enhancer


Have you ever found it difficult to recall the information that you had acquired by spending sleepless nights before a crucial exam or an interview? Can you guess what could be the possible reasons for it? Among many other things if you are thinking that sleep could have something to do with it then you are right. Based on decades of research studies, scientists now have robust evidence that sleep plays a major role in many cognitive functions, including memory.

In a recent study, Nicolas Dumay from the University of Exeter and the Basque Centre for Cognition, Brain and Language in the UK analysed two previous research studies where people had been asked to remember made-up words. They were asked to recall these words soon after exposure (test), and then again after a night’s sleep or a matched duration of wakefulness (re-test).  The findings showed that people were much better at recalling the words at retest when they had slept compared to when they had remained awake.

Dumay’s research further showed that people were even more likely to gain the memory of words, which had not been recalled when tested immediately after exposure, at retest. The findings suggest that sleep not only protects against memory loss but it also sharpens and makes our memories more accessible.

Other sleep and memory researchers have shown that sleep boosts activation of the cortical regions of the brain that are involved in encoding new information; it also enhances hippocampal function which results in better memory strength for new learning as well as greater access to already stored information.

Dumay’s report “Sleep not just protects memories against forgetting, it also makes them more accessible.” is published in the journal Cortex (2016; 74:289-296).

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