You'd Better Get Your ZZZ's: Lack of Sleep Derails Memory, Linked to Dementia

You have probably heard that sleep and memory are interconnected. It's true. Many studies have shown that not getting enough quality rest can directly hurt your memory.

I have certainly noticed this in my own life. Whenever I have a poor night due to stress, allergies, snoring, back pain, or other reasons, my mind almost always feels foggier the next day.

At night, your brain organizes what you learned during the day. As a memory study in the journal Nature said, "... sleep contributes to the long-term consolidation of new memories."

According to another study, getting too few hours hurts memorization ability as much as no sleep at all! To strengthen your memory, it is vital to get enough quality sleep each night.

A poor night's sleep hurts your memory in two big ways:

In addition, sleep is nature's way of cleaning the brain. Recent studies show the brain flushes out toxins during sleep, including amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Sleep is a big deal! If you cut your sleep short, your brain might not have time to fully clear toxic compounds from neurons. As a result of chronic lack of sleep::

Listen to the Amazing Discovery
of How Sleep Cleans the Brain

  1. Being sleepy hurts your concentration. When you can't focus on things clearly, you can't remember well.
  2. Information you learned the previous day may not be deeply recorded in long-term memory.
  3. You may increase your odds of contracting dementia later in life.

According to Howard Nusbaum, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago, a good night's rest not only helps retention but can even help you recall thoughts forgotten during the day.

As he says in Psychology Today magazine,

Sleep might strengthen relevant associations and weaken irrelevant associations, improving access to memories.

From your own point of view, it may seem you don't "do anything" during sleep. While asleep you don't eat, talk, walk around, etc. But as circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster explains in the following TED lecture, during sleep your brain accomplishes much.

Sleep is critical for strengthening neural connections required for information processing, memory consolidation, and creative problem solving during the day.

What's turned out to be really exciting is that our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep. In fact, it's been estimated to give us a threefold advantage.

In the video, Foster explains how much sleep you need, theories about sleep, health effects of sleep deprivation, and tips for falling asleep. From him, I was surprised to learn of the connection between sleep abnormalities and mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Sleep and Memory: Getting More Sleep

Bed alarmHere are some ideas for finding more time for sleep. Sleep experts believe that most people need seven to eight hours of sleep a night to be fully rested.

See if you can get closer to the mark by trying some of these suggestions.

  • Log your sleep hours. If your schedule varies a lot, you may not actually know how much sleep you are getting. In a journal or notebook, each morning write down the number of hours of sleep you got the night before. If you wake up for a midnight snack, for example, subtract that time.

    At the end of the week, average the daily sleep hours to see how much sleep you are getting in an average night. That will give you some indication of how sleep deficient you really are.

  • Kick the late-night TV habit. In my view, TV-watching can be almost like an addiction for some people. They have to see their shows or else.

    But you have to decide which is more important - seeing all those episodes, or getting your brain in top shape for the next day.

  • Go easy on the late-night video games. Many students these days stay up too late just to play their favorite games. You have to be the judge on how much is reasonable, though.

    Don't overdo it - you'll pay the price the next day. If you have to play games at night, at least make them low-key, relaxing games.

    Several calming games are available to play online free right on this website.

  • Take naps. Naps aren't just for kids anymore. If you are lucky enough to have 20 minutes of free time in the afternoon, consider taking a nap to supplement the sleep you may be missing at night.

  • Cut back on hobbies. This is an individual choice, but be realistic - if your hobby is keeping you up too late at night, find ways of cutting back.

Perhaps you've never appreciated the importance of a restful night's sleep. Check out my list of favorite sleep quotes to learn what wise folks have said about the human need for sleep.

If you have other suggestions on sleep and memory, in particular on finding more time for sleep, send me a message through my Contact Me page, and I'll post them on this page.

More sleep and memory tips:

Improve the quality of your sleep by getting better sleep

Published: 02/10/2007
Last Updated: 06/11/2020

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Reproduction without permission is prohibited