How Lack Of Sleep Affects Your Memory

We often underestimate just how important sleep is to our overall health. While your day may drag following a sleepless night, there’s far more of an effect beyond that. One of the major consequences of sleep deprivation is the loss of memory, which explains why you tend to struggle with remembering things after a terrible sleep.

We can all remember struggling to get up in the morning for school, and stressing our way through math class. That doesn’t change as we get older, it just becomes more difficult as the stresses of adulthood settle on our shoulders.

According to WebMD, it isn’t just your body that rests while you sleep, it’s a chance for your brain to process the happenings of the day, store memories, and reset itself for the following day.

Sleep And The Hippocampus

The University of Groningen completed a study (Sleep deprivation and hippocampal vulnerability: changes in neuronal plasticity, neurogenesis and cognitive function; Kreutzmann JC, et al) with mice to determine how a sleepless night can impact your day. The mice were deprived of sleep for 5 hours a night, resulting in the loss of connectivity in the hippocampus’ neurons, which is the area of the brain responsible for both learning and memory.

We can see clearly that sleep is vital in retaining memories, and naps can assist in this process. What isn’t quite as obvious is how sleep deprivation impairs the function of the hippocampus.

The belief is that it creates a change in the connections, which allows neurons to send signals. The researchers furthered this by researching how brief periods of sleep deprivation can impact dendrite structures. Dendrites are the extensions of nerve cells that branch out and receive impulses from synaptic cells.

The researchers started at the 5-hour mark of sleep deprivation, as this is known to impair the consolidation of memory. The analysis showed that this sleep deprivation reduced the length of the dendrites, as well as their density.

The experiment was repeated, with mice starved of five hours’ sleep, but then given three hours of undisturbed sleep after. The three-hour period was chosen because previous research shows three hours reverses the effects of sleep deprivation. The researchers discovered the three hours were sufficient enough to repair the deprivation.

The Side Effects Of Bad Sleep

A lack of sleep has become a common problem in the modern world, and it’s having an impact on everyone. Anyone who has suffered from sleep deprivation can attest to how poorly they function the day after. If you have trouble sleeping and suffer the after-effects, a 3-hour nap is enough to restore your brain function to normal.

Sleep deprivation results in a lack of focus, an inability to pay attention, we lack in vigilance, and find it difficult to receive and retain information. Your over-worked neurons can’t function, making it difficult to coordinate information.

This also makes it difficult to interpret events as they happen. You lose the ability to make sound decisions, because you have an inability to assess situations accurately, plan, or determine what behaviors are correct. Quite simply, sleep deprivation impairs your judgment.

Chronic exhaustion will affect your performance in your professional and personal life. Neurons aren’t firing to their optimum, your muscles haven’t had the chance to rest, and your organ systems haven’t had the opportunity to synchronize. These lapses in focus can cause accidents (sleep deprivation is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol) or injury.

In addition to memory impairment and cognitive function, sleep deprivation can also impact your mood. Mood swings can affect your ability to obtain new information, thus remember it. Chronic sleep deprivation will affect each person differently, however, what is clear is that getting a good night’s sleep has a significant impact on memory and learning.

Making Sleep A Priority

Life is constantly throwing things at us. New tasks, new emails, new apps, social media not to mention the personal one on one relationships we must maintain. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to accomplish it all. There is always the temptation to borrow little time from our sleep schedule. Consider protecting and honoring that time. Not only will it help you preserve your memory, you will just feel better!

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