It has long been known that a good night’s sleep improves learning and memory. Scientists used advanced microscopy to witness new connections between brain cells, the synapses, forming during sleep to understand how the brain changes to improve memory during sleep. Finding out sleep promotes new connections between neurons is new, nobody knew this before. They discovered that even intense training can not make up for lost sleep.
It is well known that sleep plays an important role in memory and learning. But what actually happens inside the brain has been a source of considerable debate. Scientists looked inside the living brain of animals with a microscope to see what happened when they were either sleeping or sleep deprived. And by disrupting specific phases of sleep, the research group showed deep or slow-wave sleep was necessary for memory formation. During this stage, the brain was replaying the activity from earlier in the day.
It was known that sleep helped with memory, but it could have been other causes, but now it is known that sleep really helps to make connections and that in sleep the brain is not quiet, it is replaying what happened during the day and it seems quite important for making the connections.
However, there are concerns that people are not getting enough sleep. Society really ignores the importance of sleep, it is usually the first thing people skimp on. Mice doing up to an hour’s training followed by sleep were compared with mice training intensively for three hours but then sleep deprived. The difference was strong, with the sleepers performing better and the brain forming more new connections. One of the implications is for children studying, if you want to remember something for long periods you need these connections. So it is better to study and have good sleep rather than to keep studying. Sleep promotes new synaptic connections, so preserve sleep.
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