Its finals week and once again you are up to 3 a.m. attempting to cram an entire semesters worth of biochemistry into your head in the next five days. It's hard to remember the last time you got a good night's rest but you think to yourself that all the sleep deprivation in the world may be worth getting an A on that final. But that is where many of us college students actually are wrong because contrary to popular belief depriving yourself of sleep to study is stopping your brain from "consolidating" these newly formed memories.
When we learn new information, it is quite vulnerable and in order for it to actually "stick" in our head it must go through a process called "memory consolidation." This process allows us to retain all this new knowledge by strengthening the connections between our brain cells and other brain regions. (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center)
The Science Daily article, Study Shows How Sleep Improves Memory mentions a study conducted on 12 otherwise healthy college aged individuals who were taught a sequence of skilled finger movements. Some of these individuals were subjected to 12 hours of wake while others were allowed to sleep and then tested on how well they were able to recall the finger movements while, an fMRI machine measured the activity of their brain. The results showed that " the cerebellum, which functions as one of the brain's motor centers controlling speed and accuracy was more active when subjects had had a night of sleep. At the same time, the MRI showed reduced activity in the brain's limbic system, the region that controls emotions such as stress and anxiety."
Sleep not only plays a large role in strengthening our memories but as our speaker Dr. Vargas explained in her findings of Strengthening Individual Memories by Reactivation Them During Sleep it is possible to activate specific memories during sleep when it is paired to a learning context such as a sound. In this study people were taught to associate 50 object images with a location on a computer screen. Every image was also associated with a characteristic sound for example, the image of a cat was associated with a "meow" sound. Subjects were then allowed to take a nap during which only 25 of the objects sounds were played. When they woke up the researchers found that subjects had an easier time placing those images that had been cued vs. those that had not. This shows that information that is rehearsed when we sleep is more accurately remembered when we are awake.
Therefore, when we decide to not get any sleep we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage. Sleep is needed to get all the new information "stuck" in our heads long enough to recall and use on that very important test day and it helps lower all the stress and anxiety we are most likely feeling. Instead of seeing sleep as wasted precious study hours we should use it as a tool by pairing sounds or other learning contexts with the information we need to learn and play it when we sleep to better consolidate the information.
- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2005, June 29). Study Shows How Sleep Improves Memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 3, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/06/050629070337.htm
- Lundstrum, J. (n.d.). 9 PILLARS OF BRAIN HEALTH – RE-GROW YOUR BRAIN AND MEMORY AT ANY AGE [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.simplesmartscience.com/how-much-sleep-do-i-need-insomnia-and-memory-loss/
- Rudoy, J. D., Voss, J. L., Westerberg, C. E., & Paller, K. A. (2009). Strengthening individual memories by reactivating them during sleep [PDF]. Science, 326(5956), 1079. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1179013