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Sleep Improves Memory during Times of Stress

Time:2015-07-29 12:01Author:admin Click:

Although research has clearly shown that sleep improves long-term memory, a recent study found that sleep seems to help individuals who are highly stressed develop memories and gain better access to them in the future.


Researchers from Uppsala University, Sweden, studied the impact of sleep on the transfer of information to long-term memory and how long-term memories formed by sleep can be accessed following an episode of considerable stress. The researchers found that sleep not only helps to form long-term memories, but it also ensures access to memories during times of cognitive stress. The study, conducted by sleep researchers Dr. Jonathan Cedernaes and Dr. Christian Benedict, appears in the journal “Sleep”.


The first part of the experiment began with a learning session in the evening during which 15 individuals learned 15 card pair locations on a computer screen. Following this session, one group of individuals slept for half a night (4 hours) while another group slept for a full night (8hours). The next morning, all of the individuals were asked to recall as many card pair locations as possible. Surprisingly, researchers found that individuals who slept half a night (4 hours) were just as good as individuals who slept a full night (8 hours) in forming long-term memories for the learned card pair locations.


In the second part of the study, individuals, all male, were acutely stressed for 30 minutes in the morning, either after a half a night (4 hours) or after a full night (8 hours) of sleep. One of the stressful experiences was recalling a newly learnt list of words while being exposed to noise. The researchers found that for the individuals who slept only half of the night (4 hours), the stressful experience reduced the individuals’ success at recalling card pair locations by about 10 percent. In contrast, no such difficulties occurred when the same individuals slept for a full night (8 hours).


Regarding the research results, Dr. Cedernaes commented “On the basis of our study findings, we have two important take home messages: First, even though losing half a night of sleep may not impair memory functions under baseline conditions, the addition of acute cognitive stress may be enough to lead to significant impairments, which can possibly be detrimental in real-world scenarios. Second, interventions such as delaying school start times and greater use of flexible work schedules, that increase available snooze time for those who are on habitual short sleep, may improve their academic and occupational performance by ensuring optimal access to memories under stressful conditions. An important next step will be to investigate how chronic sleep loss and or more chronic stress may interact to impair the ability to retrieve memories that are consolidated during sleep.”

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