Sleep Can Make or Break Your Memory
A good night’s sleep is critical for learning and memory. If you can’t remember, it’s probably because you’re not getting enough sleep. Or maybe because you are sleeping poorly. The brain greatly benefits from the restorative powers of sleep, and lack of it can significantly reduce your ability to learn and remember.
Importance of Sleep on Memory
Sleep has a tremendous effect on memory. The formation of new long-term memories and the consolidation of substantial aspects of memory are optimized while sleeping. During sleep, the brain rehearses the skills and information learned throughout the day. This repetition and rehearsal process strengthens the neural links used in connection with the skill or information, thereby encoding memories permanently into your brain.
Sleep deprivation results in serious impairment to your cognitive function and is damaging to your overall health. One of the main consequences of sleep deprivation is that both procedural and declarative memory suffer. Procedural memory is responsible for learning and performing actions and skills like riding a bike, speaking, or walking. Declarative memory is responsible for processing names, facts, places, and dates, such as remembering how to find your way around a city or knowing that dogs are mammals. When these cognitive processes are compromised, your quality of life is also compromised.
Lack of sleep can result in a range of problems such as memory loss, fatigue, mood swings, and lack of motivation, which can seriously hamper your performance at work and affect your relationships. Even one night of poor sleep causes reduced reaction time, irritability, lack of focus, and forgetfulness. These problems may also contribute to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The best way to determine your personal sleep needs is to observe how you feel during the day. Are you alert? Can you focus on what you’re doing? Do you have the energy to do your tasks? If not, you need to get more sleep. The amount of sleep needed for proper cognitive function is 7-9 hours every night for adults and 7-8 hours if you’re aged 65 and up. However, it is not just about the quantity of sleep you get. Getting adequate high-quality sleep per night is a fundamental component of maintaining a healthy brain and achieving peak mental performance. Quality sleep means that you get the deep restorative sleep that happens later in the night. Continuous segments of sleep without lots of waking up assist in getting this deep, slow wave, restorative sleep. With deep sleep, when you finally wake up you feel restful and restored.
Ways to Get Enough Quality Sleep
Getting enough sleep can feel next to impossible. From the demands of work, family, and friends—not to mention the endless opportunities for entertainment and distraction that are there any time you want them—the prospect of getting a full night’s rest might feel like an impossible dream. But like any other habit, sleep is primarily a learned behavior. It requires some basic organization according to certain guidelines. There are several ways you can improve your sleep quality. Below are some steps to help you get the best night’s sleep and optimize your long-term memory.
- Sleep schedule. Start with creating a bedtime routine by establishing a sleep schedule and following it consistently.
- Avoid caffeine. Caffeine consumption in the evening has a particularly disruptive effect on sleep. It’s best to avoid caffeine 8 hours before your desired bedtime.
- Turn off electric devices. Keep electronics, especially your cellphone, away from the bed for optimal relaxation and well-being. Turn off your devices 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
- Good diet. What you eat and how much you eat matters. Going to bed with a full stomach can cause some uncomfortable sensations, but going to bed hungry can be just as bad. Filling up on fatty foods and high-carbohydrate meals could impair your sleep quality and increase the number of awakenings.
- Exercise. Studies have shown that people who exercise for at least 150 minutes per week sleep better, longer, and with more restorative effects than those who don’t.
- Reduce alcohol. Though you may think it’s helping you get a good night’s sleep, alcohol intake actually has the opposite effect. In fact, it can disrupt your sleep and even cause insomnia. Alcohol causes fragmented sleep, meaning you don’t have consecutive periods of restful sleep. It causes frequent awakening during the night, and you’ll wake up tired because you’re not getting enough restful, uninterrupted sleep.
- Essential oils. Diffusing essential oils such as lavender, vanilla, cedarwood, and jasmine into your room are relaxing and may help with sleep, stress reduction, and improved mood.
- Meditation. Meditating before bedtime may help you sleep better because it allows you to focus on something other than your worries and concerns, which can be stressful and keep you awake at night.
- Hot bath. Researchers found that subjects who took a hot bath 90 minutes before bedtime slept better (and longer!) than those who didn’t take one. Taking a hot bath helped the subjects’ bodies cool down more quickly—the main factor in falling asleep and staying asleep.
These are just a few solutions to help you establish a healthy sleep routine. Remember, SLEEP can MAKE or BREAK your memory. Make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep each night, as it is integral to keeping your brain healthy.