Most of us have been told that a good night’s sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle. But why exactly is it important?
Numerous studies have shown that a lack of sleep tends to have serious health consequences, such as diabetes, diminished motor skills and reflexes, fatigue, and the ability to focus one’s attention. Research has also shown that sleep is an essential component to the brain’s ability to form and store memories; the most recent findings over the past three decades add to the existing knowledge of the REM sleep phase and its relationship with memory.
There are two main sleep stages experienced by both humans and animals: REM (rapid eye movement) and SWS (slow wave sleep).
A 2013 American Physiological Society study characterizes sleep as a “brain state optimizing memory consolidation”, as opposed to only the waking brain being optimized for the encoding of memories. In terms of how memory functions, there are three main processes involved when something becomes a memory:
1. Encoding: (also called acquisition) learning or experiencing something new
2. Consolidation: when the memory becomes stable within the brain
3. Retrieval: (also called recall) the brain’s ability to access that memory in the future
Encoding and retrieval take place when we are awake, while consolidation does not. In short, the latest findings emphasize that although we already knew that sleep has an effect on the first phase of memory, encoding, researchers have found that the second phase, consolidation, is also greatly impacted by sleep. Without enough sleep, it’s much more difficult for your brain to retain and remember new information.
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