You might not think that there is a link between sleeping and improved memory. After all, when you’re asleep your brain isn’t exactly being exercised or challenged. And it isn’t as if you can consciously review facts, or double- check details.
But what if sleeping could, in effect, make you smarter? Imagine reading a list of groceries before bed, to take a simple example. You wake up in the morning with perfect recall. No need to check the list again — it’s all right there, stored safely away in your brain.
Does that sound unrealistic?
Well, according to a new study, sleep can help strengthen the mind’s ability to retain facts. And it can minimize the effect of other competing thoughts.
Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, devised a study that measured sleep’s effect on memory. He and his staff taught 28 words to 48 participants. The participants were then divided into four groups.
The first group was taught the words at 9:00 p.m. and tested at 9:00 a.m. after having slept. The second group followed the same procedure, but were taught an additional 20 word pairs. This second set of words were meant to test memory recall with competing information, or interference.
The third group was given the list of 28 words at 9:00 a.m. and tested at 9:00 p.m. after having been awake all day. The fourth group followed a similar schedule with the addition of the second set of words added for interference.
It was found that those who slept before being tested did 12% better at recalling the word pairs than those who remained awake. And those from the interference group who had sleep had 44% better recall than the interference group who stayed awake before testing.
“Considering that learning in educational settings is centrally based on [declarative memories], people should realize that optimal learning conditions require proper sleep,” said Dr. Ellenbogen.
So next time you’re trying to learn something new, take in the facts and then sleep on them. Be patient and let the information take hold. Hopefully you’ll find that when you wake, all the facts will be there, ready for perfect (or near- perfect) recall.