How many hours sleep did you get last night? If the answer is not enough, then you might have a harder time recalling memories from yesterday than those who were well rested.
Scientists have long known the virtue of a good night’s sleep, but a new study has consolidated the old wives tale that sleeping on an idea can actually bring clarity to it, as going to bed is a key part of the human learning process.
And sleep deprivation, insomnia and taking sleeping pills are all putting us “in danger” of losing memories.
By studying the sleeping patterns of mice, a team from John Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that sleep allows us to recalibrate brain cells, solidify lessons learned and then use them when we wake up.
Lead author Graham Diering said: “The human brain can only store so much information before it needs to recalibrate.
“The bottom line is that sleep is not really downtime for the brain. It has important work to do then, and we in the developed world are shortchanging ourselves by skimping on it.”
Information is processed in the human brain through synapses that send messages to each other.
When we are awake, the system of neurons is pushed towards full capacity in a bid to make sense of the world and everything we are taking in. This constant firing of neurons means we lessen our ability to dedicate brainpower to memory.
Then when we are asleep, there is a process of scaling down going on, called homeostatic scaling, which causes a 20% drop in receptor proteins compared to those who are still awake.
And it is this process of scaling down that goes on when you are sleeping that is necessary for learning and memory.
Diering says: “It suggests that synapses are restructured throughout the mouse brain every 12 hours or so, which is quite remarkable.”
It isn’t the only study to remind us of the value of rest.
Back in September, a study showed that while we sleep, the brain works harder to process the memories we value more highly. So study sessions before going to bed were more conducive to remembering, than morning lessons.
We should probably go to bed.