You spend one third of your life doing it. And when you don’t get enough of it, you can’t remember as well, learn as readily, or think as sharply.
This refers, of course, to sleep. While sleep’s exact role in cognitive function has yet to be determined, snoozing has been connected to our ability to maintain attention, make good decisions, and, perhaps most importantly, to form and recall memories. A fascinating new study from ULCA is helping shine some light on how sleep may help us remember.
Memory consolidation and the entorhinal cortex
In a recent Nature Neuroscience study, neurophysics professor Mayank R. Mehta found that a part of the brain called the entorhinal cortex plays a key role in memory consolidation during sleep. Memory consolidation is the process that stores and reinforces your memories so you can draw on them later.
Dr. Mehta measured neural activity in a group of mice when sleeping and waking. He found that while the mice slept, the entorhinal cortex activated in a way very similar to its behavior when the mice remembered something during the day. This activity, in turned, spurred neural activity in the hippocampus. The hippocampus has often been considered a central player in long-term memory consolidation during sleep, and this study shows that the processes may be far more complex than previously thought. Said Mehta:
“These results provide, to the best of our knowledge, the first direct evidence for persistent activity in MECIII neurons in vivo and reveal its contribution to cortico-hippocampal interaction that could be involved in working memory and learning of long behavioral sequences during behavior, and memory consolidation during sleep.”
Source: Mehta et al. Spontaneous persistent activity in entorhinal cortex modulates cortico-hippocampal interaction in vivo. Nature Neuroscience, Advance Online Publication, 7 October 2012.
New sleep study may provide direction for Alzheimer’s research
Not only may Metha’s research help us understand how we strengthen memories during sleep, but it may also help researchers investigate Alzheimer’s disease—which begins in the entorhinal cortex and often involves impaired sleep. Of course, human brains differ greatly from those of mice, and further research will be needed to truly understand the entorhinal cortex’s role in memory consolidation.
Tips to sleep well and perhaps remember better
This study is another reminder of the complex ties between sleep and cognition — and a reaffirmation of how important it is that we get enough sleep each night. Fortunately, while it will likely take decades to fully understand the activities of the brain during slumber, we have some tips you can use right away to make sure you’re sleeping well enough to perform at your very best:
Don’t get too little sleep… or too much
Everyone knows that too little sleep makes it harder to focus the next day, but researchers have also found that too much sleep can affect our mood, and may even be linked to cognitive decline. Most people need 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night.
Create a sleep-ready environment
Interruptions during sleep can impact our ability to encode memories. Ensuring that your sleep environment is quiet, dark, and distraction free can help prevent disturbances.
Avoid these for a better night’s sleep
Consuming coffee, eating late at night, alcohol consumption, and smoking all can impair sleep. Even doing intellectually stimulating work close to bedtime can have an effect — so aim to wind down activity and consumption of all of the above when you get ready for bed.
New to Lumosity? Sign up for free today!
Have a free account already? Unlock all 35 games and full performance history now!