Sleep On It: Sleep Helps Us Consolidate Memory

First Posted: Feb 21, 2016 07:35 AM EST

Turns out, "sleeping on it," as they say, really does help.

New findings published in the journal Cell Reports examine how brain activity during sleep helps consolidate memory.

"These findings are about the fundamental processes that occur in the brain during the consolidation of memory during sleep. It also seems that the successful replay of brain activity during sleep is dependent on the emotional state of the person when they are learning," said Lead researcher Dr Jack Mellor, from the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, in a news release. "This has major implications for how we teach and enable people to learn effectively."

Researchers from Bristol's Centre for Synaptic Plasticity provide further evidence for the benefits of a good night's sleep, which is incredibly important as a night of interrupted sleep often experienced by those in healthy populations, as well as those with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease (AD), can lead to impaired mental function.

What's particularly important about this study is that many of our memories filter into our sleep patterns as we rest. The activity of the day is replayed in the hippocampus--an area that is our "central filing system for memories," researchers say.

In this new study, the key new finding is that sleep replay strengthens the microscopic connections between nerve cells that are active--a process that's quite critical to memory consolidation. Therefore, depending on which daytime activity patterns are replayed, sleep can both sort and retain important information. 

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