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Feeling Forgetful? How Sleep Impacts Memory

Rest helps our brains process and save information, and so much more

Aug 13, 2021

We know that days after a good night’s sleep are the best days. Sleep is the time your body spends processing the day and recharging for the next one. When you don’t get enough of it, you’re likely to be exhausted for the rest of the day. But sleep deprivation doesn’t only manifest in physical sluggishness. 

Your brain cares a lot about your quality of sleep. Not getting enough sleep can make it hard for you to think, rationalize, and process emotions. Research tells us that the brain requires sleep to receive new information, make sense of existing information, and retrieve the information it needs during the day. 

The way the brain learns and remembers can be understood through three mechanisms: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. These processes are essential for memory development and function. Acquisition and recall occur only during wakefulness, but research suggests that memory consolidation takes place during sleep. 

Sleep cycles have everything to do with it.

Although science has not yet been able to pinpoint how memories are impacted by sleep, the correlation of quality of sleep and brain function is clear. The brain's hippocampus and neocortex store long-term memories. Research suggests that during deep sleep, the hippocampus replays the events of the day for the neocortex, where it reviews and processes memories, helping important information last long term.

Some studies even suggest that memories form during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, or the part of the sleep cycle when we dream, and in slow-wave, deep sleep


So, while the exact link between sleep and memory haven’t been totally sorted out yet in science, we know that sleep is a biological necessity for brain function. This is why so many sleep experts recommend that we get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. 

The better we sleep, the better our brains function. 

Getting the best quality of sleep can be difficult, but there are definitely things we can do to make it easier. This includes keeping our bedrooms dark and at cool temperatures, sleeping in super soft breathable sheets, and maintaining regular exercise and hydration during the day help us achieve deep, restful sleep each night. 

Doing so will ensure that we give our minds the time to process today’s information and prepare us to be awake, alert, and productive tomorrow.

Written by Cybele Ramirez

Cybele is a freelance writer covering all things culture and lifestyle. She’s also a content strategist in the tech startup space and mastering Media Studies at The New School. You can find this native New Yorker canoodling her two dogs, trying out a new recipe, or on IG @cybelina.

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