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How Sleep Helps Your Brain

The power of sleep and your memory

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At Restonic, we make no secret of the fact that we believe in the power of sleep. But many people don’t know how important sleep is when it comes to memory. Without enough sleep, your brain struggles to new information and to form memories.

What the science says

According to Jennifer Choi Tudor, a neuroscientist in the field of sleep at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia, has been studying how sleep deficits affect our ability to form memories and learn new things. Her research has identified the importance of 4E binding protein 2, known as 4EBP2.

She says sleep deprivation can cause various issues, from affecting metabolism, processing of waste and gene expression. But of particular importance, she says, is that sleep deprivation impairs the critical process to make proteins required to form memories. This is known as translation.

In a study on lab mice, Tudor looked at brain function of both sleep-deprived and well-rested mice. She discovered that just five hours of extended wakefulness resulted in significant memory deficits. But, when her research team was able to increase the level of 4EBP2, they were able to prevent memory deficits. She says that in future, scientists may look at whether boosting the amount of this protein in Alzheimer’s patients could help to improve brain function.

Even while you are sleeping, your brain is hard at work. University of York did studies that show memories are better remembered after sleep than wakefulness. Scientists believe that recently acquired information is ‘reactivated’ and strengthened in the sleeping brain.

More sleep research is needed to understand how the brain retains and processes information. Animal studies do show that the brain replays previous experiences while we sleep, strengthening them into memories during the deep sleep and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep phases.

Scientists believe that understanding the healthy benefits of sleep could open the door to boost our memory retention abilities and to learn more effectively. As one scientist explained, when you’re awake, you learn new things. However, when you’re asleep you refine them, making it easier to retrieve them and apply them correctly when you need them.

A timing trick to try

Reading or studying before bed may help you retain more information – as long as that sleep is good quality. Studies at the University of Zurich looked at how a disturbed sleep phase disrupts the brain’s ability to learn things.

In daylight hours, we are subject to many stimuli. At night, the brain needs some chill time to normalise. If the brain synapses remain in an excited state (as they are during the day), that restoration doesn’t happen. This can inhibit neuroplasticity and prevent processing of new information.

Discover everything you need to know about sleep and mattresses on our sleep blog.