The Role of a Good Night’s Sleep in Improving Your Memory

woman waking up in morning

After a test at school or a big presentation at work, did you notice that you usually do better if you got a great night’s sleep before the big day? Sure, life isn’t perfect, and you may need to pull an all-nighter from time to time, but once you’ve experienced being fully-rested before tackling an important task, I’m sure you’d agree that all-nighters should always be your last option.

Why does the right amount of sleep matter? That’s because when you sleep well, your mind and body can reap some great benefits:

  • You retain information better
  • You retain memories better
  • You learn new skills faster
  • You are more productive and efficient
  • Your immune system is boosted
  • Your heart is strengthened

But, what if sleep is an issue for you? For some people, sleep just comes easily. They find a bed, they doze off, and then they’re off to dreamland. But, an estimated 40% of Americans actually sleep less than 7 hours per night. If you’re part of that 40%, then you are going to find this article very helpful.

A quick look at what’s ahead:

Today, we’re going to explore why sleep is essential to your memory and your body, as well. This article will talk about the following:

  • What the brain does to boost your memory and information retention when you’re fast asleep
  • Easy sleep tips for a good night’s sleep

What Happens To Your Brain When You Sleep?

The human brain is fascinating. It controls everything: your heart, your lungs, your feelings, your thoughts, everything! More importantly, the brain acts as a “bank” where your memories are stored and retained. Another vital function of the brain is its capability for you to learn new and useful information. And a good night’s sleep is needed for the brain to do those functions properly.

How Does Sleep Affect Memory?

According to the Theory of Brain Plasticity, sleeping allows your brain’s nerve cells (neurons) to reconnect and reorganize, allowing it to grow, change, and retain memories.

Let’s process that for a bit because, YES, the brain grows and changes, too!

For example, a study showed that London taxi drivers have a larger posterior region of the Hippocampus than London bus drivers. The Hippocampus is the part of the brain that controls the acquisition and use of spatial information for the purpose of navigating efficiently.

Since London taxi drivers need to navigate the city without bus routes to guide them, they must commit to memory every street, road, and alley. Their brains adjusted to this knowledge and made room to retain this information. That’s the reason why their brains literally “grew” with the information it absorbed every time they navigate the complicated streets of London.

What else does your brain do to help your memory when you sleep?

Clears out toxic byproducts.

During sleep, your brain’s Glymphatic System has the wonderful job of “clearing out” waste accumulated from your central nervous system. Essentially, this means that your brain has its own natural waste clearance system. You see, toxic byproducts build up in your brain throughout your busy day. And when you finally call it a night, the Glymphatic System clears out all those byproducts, leaving your mind clear, refreshed, and working well when you wake up.

Turns short-term memories into long-term memories.

 An article published in the Journal of Neuroscience describes how the brain makes way for new information and increases your memory by “erasing” and “decluttering” old information. Essentially, when you are asleep, your brain is busy converting short term memory into long term memory. Sleep plays a vital role in these functions as this is when your brain’s synapses reset.

Given the information above, don’t be surprised when after a long and intense day at work, all your brain is telling you is to get a good night’s sleep, because that’s exactly what it needs so you can keep memories that matter, “erase” the ones that don’t, and make room to learn new things.

How many hours of sleep do you need?

Did you grow up with your mother reminding you to take a nap every day? She might have said, “It’s good for your brain!” or “It’s healthy for you!” According to science, your mother was right. As mentioned above, getting the proper amount of sleep helps your brain retain memory and absorb new knowledge.

To achieve optimum brain function, it’s best to get the recommended hours of sleep. Here are the CDC‘s recommendations:

Age Hours of Sleep
0 – 3 months old 14 to 17 hours
4 – 12 months 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours, (including naps)
1 – 2 years old 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
3 – 5 years 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
6 – 12 years 9 to 12 hours
13 – 18 years 8 to 10 hours
18 – 60 years 7 or more hours
61 – 64 years 7 to 9 hours
65 years and older 7 to 8 hours

Sleep Tips to Improve Memory

If you’re ready to catch some 40 winks, I’ve gathered some expert-backed sleep tips that can help you improve your memory (and your health, in general):

Invest in the best mattress for a good night’s sleep.

Take it from sleep experts and health professionals. A quality mattress helps you fall asleep better and faster.

Take power naps.

Studies have shown that taking 30-minute to 1-hour naps during the day can help you boost productivity when you’re tackling certain tasks.

Turn off gadgets and place them away from your bedroom.

When you are trying to fall asleep, you are essentially “turning off” your brain. However, gadgets do the opposite. They stimulate the brain instead of slowing it down. This can lead to insomnia and disrupted sleep.

Cut back on caffeine at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.

Caffeine is a stimulant. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep at night, try to think about your last cup of coffee. If it’s less than 4 hours before your bedtime, then it may be the reason why you’re not sleeping well.

Stick to a routine.

When your mind and your body are used to a daily routine, it makes it easier to fall asleep at night. Your biological clock simply winds down around the same time each night when you get ready for bed.

The Takeaway

To wrap this up – getting enough sleep gives your brain ample time to process memories and information. It’s probably safe to say that getting your regular 8 hours’ of Zzzz’s is probably the key to making you healthier, smarter, and more productive.

Do you have your own “insider” tips for getting better sleep? Let us know by commenting below.

 

Erick HeadshotAbout the Author: Erick is a writer at ID-MAG. An enthusiast and expert when it comes to sleep products, Erick dedicates a lot of his time reading about, researching, and reviewing both traditional and emerging sleep brands that manufacture varied types of sleep products – from eco-mattresses, smart pillows to cooling sleep systems, Erick has probably reviewed them all. Erick also finds sleep especially important since he juggles a small business which he runs from home, makes sure he spends time with his daughter and he also writes during his spare time – you can definitely see that he needs a great forty winks all night, every night, so he’ll make sure that you get great sleep, too!

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

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