It should be a no-brainer that proper sleep improves memory and learning. But, not all of us try to get the sleep our minds and bodies need. Many also have difficulty owing to sleep issues like insomnia and sleep apnea. A Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study interviewed a group of women about their sleep habits and their memory and thinking skills over a 6-year period. It was found that women who slept 5 hours or less performed worse on brain testing compared to those who slept for 7-8 hours. Interestingly, women who slept for 9 hours or more also didn’t perform well. Why? Because people who sleep for too long often have poor sleep quality.
Learning and retaining something new doesn’t happen in a split second. It’s a complex process that consists of three steps: wherein 1) new information is acquired and introduced to the brain, 2) stabilized and stored, and 3) recalled when needed. Acquiring information and recalling it happens when we’re awake. However, research has shown that consolidating new information happens when we sleep as sleeping strengthens the neural connections that form memories. The poorer our sleep quality, the less we’re able to stabilize and store that new information.
We know that our bodies clear out waste so that we remain healthy. But, did you know that our brains do the same? When we sleep, cerebrospinal fluid carries away waste like dead matter and amyloid-beta much faster than when we’re awake. This helps improve memory power. Amyloid-beta is a protein that’s found in higher concentration in people who are sleep deprived and in people with Alzheimer’s. In a study, just one night of bad sleep caused amyloid-beta levels to spike in areas where Alzheimer’s biomarkers typically show up. Although getting good sleep won’t prevent a person from developing Alzheimer’s if he/she is already at risk from other factors, it does keep the brain clearer of waste.
We often hear the phrase ‘Sleep on it’ when we face complex problems. But it’s more than just a saying; it can actually help us solve things. In a study, participants were given tasks to complete. They were later given opportunities to solve any remaining unsolved problems after a period of sleep, wake and no delay. Those in the sleep group were able to work out the tough problems better than those in the other groups. There was no difference found when attempting the easy tasks. The conclusion? Sleeping can help us solve difficult problems.
We go through a sleep cycle several times a night including rapid eye movement or REM sleep and light non-REM (NREM) sleep. During these stages, we’re more likely to learn new things and form fresh memories. Although not much research has been done on this, a small study did indeed make the connection. The participants were exposed to complex sound patterns while they were asleep and were able to recognize them when they woke up. While more studies do need to be done to properly establish the phenomenon, it does show that getting good, uninterrupted sleep can help us learn new information.
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Some people drift off to sleep and stay asleep through the night with no trouble. But, if you’re not one of them and need help, try these tips to help you sleep better.
Exercise is vital for good health, but it also improves sleep. Try to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day. It’s a stress-buster and tires you out so you can go to bed without feeling anxious and awake. If working out leaves you feeling energized instead of exhausted, plan it for the morning. If it leaves you spent and you want nothing more than to hit the sack, an evening session will help you get to bed faster.
Diet plays a role in how well you sleep so make it a point to check what you eat. Avoid caffeine late in the day as it increases adrenaline production and keeps you alert. Remember that it takes 4-6 hours for just half the caffeine you consume to leave your body so you can imagine how much remains when you drink in excess. Try to include foods that have the sleep hormone, melatonin, in your diet. They include tomatoes, oats, bananas, barley, rice, ginger, nuts, eggs, and fish. This will increase the hormone’s concentration in your body and help you sleep.
A bedroom that isn’t comfortable won’t help you feel relaxed. What you need is to have an environment that unwinds and encourages you to sleep. You can start by drawing the blinds and leaving gadgets out of reach. You can also dim the lights and take a warm shower before heading to bed. Use bedding that’s comfortable too such as pillows that support the curve of the neck and shoulders and a mattress that supports different body parts and your spine.
Nuvanna is a mattress built for both comfort and support. It’s designed by an expert with over 20 years’ experience. It comprises three layers of which the topmost keeps your body cool using phase-changing gel particles that disperse heat. The second layer isolates motion so that you and your partner can move freely without disturbing each other. The last layer provides support to your spine to reduce and even eliminate back pain.
Sleep is a restorative process and one that we all need to keep our minds sharp. There are no two ways about it. While we live in a 24/7 world where life is fast and everything seems to be moving constantly, we still need better sleep. There’s just too much at stake not to take it seriously. No matter how busy life is, make time to improve the quality of your sleep and thereby, your mental faculties.