New Research Hints At How Sleep Can Improve Memory

Science is at it again with yet another health benefit of sleep, and thus a new reason to make sure you get good shut eye every night. According to a new study by University of Alberta neuroscientists, slow-wave brain activity, which occurs during sleep, could play a critical role in improving memory.

Anastasia Greenberg, who led the research, explains: “During slow-wave activity, brain cells fire in all sorts of patterns, which we think represents the strengthening of memories during sleep.”

Researchers headed to the lab to simulate slow-wave sleep and alter them with electrical fields. Then, they used a brain imaging technique with voltage-sensitive dye to monitor and record brain activity. The results? Slow-wave electrical fields exhibited a significant effect on neural activity throughout the entire brain.

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This means, according to Greenberg, that the electrical stimulation might be working in an “artificial” way to enhance memories. “If you could influence the kind of slow-wave sleep you are having,” says Clay Dickson, another researcher at the University of Alberta,” maybe you could actually enhance memory.”

Still, these scientists are first to admit there is more research to be done, so hold off on scheduling afternoon naps after a group study session. (In fact, a recent study came out explaining how naps might even produce falsememories — yikes!) And definitely don’t try to buy your own electrical field simulator either. According to Greenberg and Dickinson, there is still a lot their team needs to learn, and measuring brain activity using electrical fields is very hard to do accurately and consistently.

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However, prior science is on their side. A handful of studies have looked at sleep’s role in memory with many showing how sleep can protect new memories, and even consolidate them according the importance. 

So take this as just another reason to aim for those eight hours a night. And maybe try a memory foam pillow to help boost your memory even more (sorry we’re not sorry…).

Featured Image: Calgary Herald on Twitter

Laura Schwecherl

Laura is a journalist with nearly a decade of experience reporting and covering topics in the health, fitness, and wellness space. She is also a marketing consultant, where she works with impact-oriented startups to build marketing and editorial strategies. Outside of work, you can find her reading Murakami novels, writing amateur poetry, or trail running in her hometown, Boulder, Colorado.

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