Getting a good night’s sleep may be the single, most important thing you do for your brain and body all day. Lack of sleep can inhibit your fine motor skills, interfere with your brain’s detoxification process, impede your decision-making capabilities, and lead to health issues including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
Most importantly, sleep helps your brain reset and recharge while processing the events of the day and forming memories. Without adequate, consistent sleep, your ability to learn and retain information diminishes causing both your short-term and long-term memory function to suffer.
Pre-exam cram sessions were, likely, a regular part of life in high school and college. You’d stay up until the wee small hours, pouring over textbooks and class notes, and trying to cram as much knowledge into your head as humanly possible…only to find that during the exam, your last-minute study efforts came up short.
Why? Because the brain requires sleep to solidify information. Without giving your mind enough rest, your brain essentially cannot absorb any new information.
Adequate sleep doesn’t merely allow us to absorb information, it actually improves our memory’s capabilities for recall. In an interview with The Guardian, Psychologist Nicolas Dumay says, “Sleep almost doubles our chances of remembering the previously unrecalled material. The post-sleep boost in memory accessibility may indicate that some memories are sharpened overnight.”
Decades of research clearly support Dumay’s assertion. An article entitled, “Neurophysiological Basis of Sleep’s Function on Memory and Cognition,” illustrates science’s longstanding interest in discovering the link between sleep and memory formation.
In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus first began experimenting with the science of human memory. A pioneer of cognitive psychology, Ebbinghaus was the first to observe the benefit of sleep on memory…but certainly not the last.
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In 1924, John Jenkins and Karl Dallenbach of Cornell University began digging deeper. Their research found that those who were deprived of sleep weren’t as adept at bringing to mind past data with the same degree of sharpness as their well-rested peers. In fact, their studies found that sleep had a 50% increase in memory capabilities; participants recalled twice as much learned information if they slept after they were exposed to the data. More recent studies have only further solidified our understanding of sleep’s important role in memory consolidation.
When sleep eludes us for more than a few nights, we begin to detect a deterioration in our ability to acquire, consolidate, and recall what we have taken in. The more consistent our sleep quality, the greater our ability to tap into our memory banks.
Regular, high-quality sleep is imperative to healthy memory function. A well-rested brain can also regulate your good mood, improve your creativity, and give you a higher cognitive level of understanding and insight. So if you’re toiling over a tough decision, studying for an exam, or laboring over a complex problem, sometimes it really is best to just sleep on it!