Spotless minds only unlock eternal sunshine in Hollywood dramas; for most of us, the erasure of our memory banks is a thought that incites utter terror. How many times do we stop and mentally relive life’s milestone moments? The day your child was born, the second you first met your spouse, the last conversation you had with a loved one?
Memories- both good and bad- not only establish a sense of a life fully lived, but they also help us to relate and react to the world around us. In our last blog, we talked about the vital link between sleep and memory creation. Today, we’ll uncover the mysterious way that our brains make and store these most precious memories.
In an article entitled “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” published by The Division of Sleep Medicine of Harvard University, the link between healthy sleep habits and data retention is explained. Memory can be broken down into three, distinct processes: acquisition, consolidation, and recall.
Acquisition occurs when the brain experiences any new information. Consolidation is the process of establishing that information more firmly, and recall hinges on your ability to access those memories in the future. When you are sleeping, your brain replays the events and lessons of the day while the hippocampus and the neocortex of your brain work cooperatively to store these events as memories.
In other words, as you expose your brain to new knowledge (acquisition), the information passes through your visual cortex and other sensory areas of your brain. When you attempt to recall something that wasn’t properly absorbed, you provide your brain with clues to jog your memory…but if the memory was never given adequate time to stabilize (consolidation), your recall attempts will fail. This is why proper rest is integral to learning; your brain can’t clearly remember details (recall) without adequate sleep.
Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California Berkeley, has studied sleep and memory storage for more than ten years. He claims that the pillow is the perfect place for the “undistracted” brain to tie together new information to establish memories.
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During the day, the brain is on the lookout for linkable concepts, In sleep, your brain has the undistracted opportunity to solidify these connections between current thoughts and old memories. In addition to consolidating your memories, studies have shown that as the brain rests, it can spur creative insight regarding the information it processes. It’s for this reason that many sleep therapists and professionals recommend keeping a dream journal or diary to record these sudden, sleep-associated thoughts.
Not only is sleep deprivation linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, but poor sleeping habits can also interfere with memory creation in the present moment. Just like backing up your laptop, getting adequate sleep is the best way to safeguard your most precious memories.