Expert Insights from Program Leaders
Oct. 1, 2021

The Relationship Between Sleep and Memory

The importance of sleep as it relates to memory, wellness, and overall health continues to be highlighted in various studies(1-4). The benefit of quiet rest without deep sleep can immediately impact memory as well and in fact demonstrate an equal advantage to memory from a full sleep period thus highlighting the impact on activity with neurobiology and our process of encoding new learning(1). Practically speaking, taking a 20-30 minute rest period following a period of learning new material may in fact help our memory and retention processes in our brain thus providing less need for studying that same material over and over again. There is also strong evidence that sleep deprivation impairs memory retention so the overarching reminder of how important allowing our brains to rest may be to our overall success in learning and retention is clear. Finally, when it comes to our overall health, the evidence is clear. Sleep has a positive impact on our nervous system. It impacts inflammation, sympathetic nervous system activation, hormonal responses, and our overall neural circuitry responses. Understanding that our optimal health includes optimal sleep health is the first step to success in graduate school and beyond. Here are a few sleep tips to consider:

  1. Maintain a good sleep schedule so your internal clock is used to a pattern.
  2. Keep a sleep journal for a period of time to understand the relationship between what you eat, drink, and do in a day as it relates to the quality of your sleep.
  3. When possible, create the ideal environment including a cool, dark, quiet room that is used for sleep and nothing else. Some studies suggest a temperature between 65 and 68 degree Fahrenheit at night promotes a good sleeping environment and darkness is our friend when trying to shutdown the brain.
  4. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Stretching or walking are simple enough but promote wellness and impact sleep.
  5. Use a journal at bedtime to highlight the things you are grateful for that day while organizing your thoughts, worries, and concerns on paper for the following day so you can shutdown. Give those anxious thoughts purpose by placing them in the journal but also develop a mental checklist for closing those thoughts down. 
  6. Most importantly, leave that phone, tablet, computer out of the bedroom or shut them down for notifications so you can rest easy and pick up the next day after a full night of sleep.

References:

  1. Wang SY, et al. ‘Sleep-dependent’ memory consolidations? Brief periods of post-training rest and sleep provide and equivalent benefit for both declarative and procedural memory. Learning & Memory. 2021,28(6):195-203.
  2. Noack H, Doeller CF, Born J. Sleep strengthens integration of spatial memory systems. Learning & Memory. 2021,26(5):162-170.
  3. Ashton JE, Harrington MO, Langhorne D, Hong-Viet VN, Cairney SA. Sleep deprivation induces fragmented memory loss. Learning & Memory. 2020,27(4):130-136.
  4. Byusse DJ. Sleep health: Can we define it? Does it matter? Sleep. 2014,37(1):9-17. Accessed online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3902880/ on July 26, 2021.