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Want to Improve Your Memory? Go to Bed!

Anyone who's suffered through a bout of insomnia knows the foggy-headed feeling that comes with it the next day. It can feel as though your mind is working in slow motion.

The findings of a new study make perfect sense, then, as it was found that a good night's sleep has the opposite affect on your brain -- it can actually help to improve your memory.

The study, published in the journal Neuroscience, involved 12 college-aged individuals who were taught a sequence of skilled finger movements (similar to a piano scale), then tested on their ability to remember them after a 12-hour period of wake or sleep.

Meanwhile, an MRI measured their brain activity and showed that, after sleep, some areas of the brain were more active and others were noticeably less active. Together, the brain activity changes that occurred after sleep resulted in improvements in the participants' motor skill performance.

Infants may need much more sleep than adults because they're busy "solidifying" newly learned skills in their brains.

"The MRI scans are showing us that brain regions shift dramatically during sleep," says the study's lead author, Matthew Walker, PhD, director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. "When you're asleep, it seems as though you are shifting memory to more efficient storage regions within the brain. Consequently, when you awaken, memory tasks can be performed both more quickly and accurately and with less stress and anxiety."

Interestingly, when a person learns a new skill, the memories are vulnerable until they are "solidified" in the brain. It appears that sleeping plays a key role in this process, which may explain why infants, who are constantly learning new skills, require so much more sleep than adults.

Likewise, stroke patients and other people who have suffered brain injuries may also benefit from increased amounts of sleep as part of their rehabilitation program.

Even More Reasons to Get a Good Night's Sleep

As though improved memory weren't enough incentive, there are many other reasons why getting plenty of shut-eye is a wise move. When we sleep:

  • Muscle tissue is rebuilt and restored
  • Growth hormone is secreted (this is important for kids but also for rebuilding tissue in adults)
  • Mental energy is restored

Sticking with a relaxing bedtime routine can help you fall fast asleep every night.

And a good night's sleep is important for everything from improving your mood and mental alertness to giving you energy and stamina to get through the day.

On the other hand, if you don't get the sleep you need:

  • Your immune system may become impaired, leaving you less able to fight off disease

  • You may feel irritable and have poor memory, poor concentration and mood swings

  • You're more likely to feel angry, pessimistic and sad

  • Your coordination, reaction time and judgment may all be negatively affected, which is particularly dangers while driving

Tips for a Sound Night's Sleep

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  • Falling back to sleep faster when awakened during the night
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Sometimes, even with the best intentions, it can be difficult to get to sleep each night. If you struggle with falling asleep, find that you wake up during the night or sleep restlessly in general, try these tips for a peaceful night of slumber.

  1. Create a relaxing bedtime routine.

  2. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.

  3. Exercise (but not too close to bedtime, as it could keep you up).

  4. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark--and use it only for sleep.

  5. Drink a cup of relaxing tea, like chamomile.

  6. Massage your feet.

  7. Stretch a bit before you lie down.

  8. Once you are in bed, listen to relaxing music or a relaxation or sleep CD to help you "shift gears" and relax into sleep.

Recommended Reading

Why Do We Need to Sleep? The Latest Fascinating Theories on This Mystery Phenomenon

Noise Pollution: How Bad is it, How Bad Could it Get, What are the Effects?


Neuroscience. 2005;133(4):911-917

Health Orbit: Study Shows How Sleep Improves Memory

The Link Between Poor Sleep and Anxiety

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