Research suggests that taking a little breather after learning new material can help you recall the gritty details later on.
Remember when your teachers told you to study right before bed because it would help you retain the information? Well, they weren’t wrong. However, it turns out you might not need a full night of sleep to help improve your memory — a short, quiet rest will apparently do just fine.
Michaela Dewar and Michael Craig, researchers at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, have determined that a peaceful, meditative rest works just as well as deep REM sleep when it comes to metabolizing and remembering new information. Craig explains: “Recent research suggests that the memory system strengthens weak new memories by ‘reactivating’ them, where brain activity first observed during learning automatically reappears in the minutes that follow.”
Their research does emphasize that it’s not just about being able to retain new material — resting after learning can be especially helpful in remembering the “fine details.” Dewar states that the positive correlation between quiet time and memory “appears especially true during sleep and quiet resting, when we’re not busy taking in any new sensory information.”
What makes them so sure? Craig and Dewar designed a memory test! They asked 60 young participants (average age of 21) to look at a set of photos. Then, they were asked to detect “old” photos from “similar” ones. If the subject’s ability to remember the fine details of each photo was good, they would say the photos were “similar.” If they didn’t pick up on the detailed nuances of a new photo, they would label it as “old.” It turned out that the subjects who rested in the minutes that followed each photo test were better at noticing the subtle details than those who did not rest.
Craig and Dewar were impressed with their findings, however they admit that the inner-workings responsible for this newfound phenomenon are still mysterious.
“We don’t know exactly how this rest-related memory strengthening works,” concluded Dewar. “Specifically, it remains unknown whether quiet resting only allows us to retain more information, or whether it also helps us to retain more detailed memories.”
How the brain works is a mystery to most of us, but when it comes to memory, we know one thing for sure: healthy sleep hygiene can only help to strengthen it.