Memory and sleep: Researchers finally discover why getting sufficient sleep dramatically boosts brain performance

The brain works at its finest when it is well rested. Therefore, having the right amount of sleep a day, which is at least seven to nine hours, is needed for the brain to be alert and to focus, and to learn and remember information well. Recently, a team of researchers from the University of York found that sleep boosts memory by strengthening new and old versions of the same memory.

The study indicated that sleep improves both old and new versions of memory, which helps in using memories adaptively. The brain updates the memory with new information when you recall something, creating and storing different versions of the same event. It does not overwrite or replace the old version of the experience.

“In this way, sleep is allowing us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences,” explained Scott Cairney, lead researcher of the study.

The researchers investigated on how sleep affects memory by conducting an experiment on participants who were randomly divided into two groups. They were tasked to study the placement of words that were displayed on a computer screen. Testing the experiment, the groups were shown each of the words at the center of the screen and were afterwards asked to specify where they thought they belonged. After the first test, the first group slept for an hour and a half, while the other group remained awake. The two groups then repeated the experiment.

The results showed that the two groups remembered the location at the second test closer to the original location compared to what they recalled at the first test. This indicated that the memory was updated and new memories had been formed. Moreover, results revealed that the group who had sleep prior to the second test remembered the locations closer in distance to both the original, and the locations retrieved in the first test, compared to the group who stayed awake. This suggests that sleep improved the new and old versions of the memory.

“Our study reveals that sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories,” said corresponding author Gareth Gaskell.

However, the researchers noted that even if this process enables memories to adapt to changes, it can also incorporate wrong information into the memory storage. The brain’s memory will draw on both accurate and inaccurate versions of the same experience, which causes confusions in how people recall past events.

Having a good sleep

If you have been having some issues with your sleep or you want to improve the quality of sleep, it is advisable to adapt to some lifestyle changes. Here are some tips on how to have a good sleep.

  • Have a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake-up time every day to regulate your body clock and help you fall and stay asleep for the night.
  • Exercising every day, whether vigorous or light, will help you sleep better at night.
  • The design of your bedroom affects your sleep. It should be cool, free from noise, and free from any light.
  • Your bed and pillows should be comfortable and supportive enough for a better sleep at night. (Related: Boost immunity and enjoy better sleep with plants in the bedroom that are recommended by NASA.)
  • Turn off any bright light in the evening, and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning to manage your circadian rhythms.
  • Avoid drinking, smoking, and eating heavy meals at night as these can interrupt sleep.

Read more information on how the brain works at

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