One of our most important physiological needs is sleep. It allows our body and mind to rest and is our natural way to refresh and reboot the system for another day of work.
Lack of sleep or sleep deprivation significantly affects many facets of our body’s system – this includes our brain activity.
In this article, we will take a look at the effects of sleep deprivation on our brain function and how our memories are stored.
Let’s talk about your sleep cycle
To understand the connection between sleep and memory, let’s first look at sleep cycles. Your brain goes through multiple cycles during a night of sleep, these cycles can be classified into two categories REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (NREM).
The non-REM sleep usually occurs during the earlier phase of the night, beginning when you’ve just fallen asleep. REM sleep occurs just right before your brain goes into activity or right before waking up.
What goes on during non-REM sleep?
Your non-REM sleep is an important part of your sleep cycle, since this is when deep sleep occurs.
The brain goes into slow-wave sleep, where glucose metabolism increases and supports short-term and long-term memory retention as well as overall learning.
Another important role of deep sleep is the regeneration of cells, including your brain cells. This is one of the main reasons why you should get enough sleep every night.
What about REM sleep?
REM sleep plays an equally important role in your memory consolidation and retention. Even though the REM sleep stage is usually associated with dreaming, it is also vital when it comes to processing information that you’ve received during the day.
Sleep disorders and memory loss
Different sleep disorders can have various effects on your memory, more often having a negative impact on your memory consolidation and retention.
The effects of sleep apnea
Sleep apneais a sleep disorder where a person experiences sleep disturbances due to the intermittent interruption of breathing while sleeping.
If somebody is suffering from sleep apnea, it is likely that a lack of oxygen is being sent to the brain due to their breathing, and if left unchecked can cause permanent brain damage.
It is also believed that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is one of the most affected areas when there is a lack of oxygen, which can lead to a decline in the brain’s cognitive function.
Can sleep deprivation lead to Alzheimer’s disease?
While there is no direct link between not having enough hours of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, some studies show that the same proteins found in the brain of people living with Alzheimer’s show up whenever a person isn’t getting enough sleep.
So, can lack of sleep affect your memory?
The impact of sleep on your memory is significant, and having poor sleep can affect your memory as well as your cognition and brain activity.
Being sleep deprived denies your brain the capacity to retain information and absorb anything new, so it is highly advisable to get the right amount of sleep every day.
The effects of sleep deprivation isn’t just forgetting things that you’ve memorised, it can also affect your procedural memory, which is learning how to do things.
If you’re an athlete who’s training for your designated sport, or even learning and trying to improve on a new skill, having good sleep quality is required to help with retaining that knowledge, especially your muscle memory.
What can you do to avoid memory loss during sleep?
Set a sleep schedule
Setting a sleep schedule and actually committing to it is an often-overlooked task, but having the same bed time and nightly routine will do wonders in improving overall sleep quality, and ensure you’re getting the best deep sleep.
Humans usually have a predetermined sleep pattern or circadian rhythm, and because of all the day-to-day activities, these patterns can usually be disrupted.
Being strict with the time you go to sleep and wake up creates a more natural pattern that your body and brain can adapt to. The fixed sleep schedule allows the brain to properly adjust its memory consolidation to better suit your sleep patterns.
Take power naps
Just like how our body gets tired when it’s overused, our brain also experiences fatigue when we process a lot of information during the day.
Taking quick power naps are an effective way to rest your brain and give it a quick reboot. This method is highly effective to commit working memory, or memories that are needed for immediate use.
Just avoid napping for too long as that can mess up your sleep schedule, plus you might end up feeling groggy and disoriented after a long nap.
Eat right and at the right time
Having a healthy and proper diet is not only good for your body and overall health, but it can also help give your brain a long-term boost in memory retention.
Part of this is that you need to eat at the right time of day. Eating right before bed is best avoided as the body’s energy is wasted, plus it’s not the best for digestion.
As much as possible, you want your body to use its stored energy to restore your brain cells, and eating right before bed can divert your body’s energy to focusing on digestion.
Remember to sleep!
Whether young or old, the effects of getting enough sleep are priceless for adequate brain function. Not getting enough sleep can affect the way we think, the way we act, and the way we recall memories.
So remember, try to hit your recommended hours of sleep per day, and your memory will thank you for it!