Sleep: A Natural Memory Enhancer
Dr. Penelope Lewis wrote in her book, The Secret World of Sleep, that “Sleeping acts like a spring-cleaning for the brain.” She describes cerebrospinal fluid washing through the brain’s crevices, flushing away waste that has built up in the cells over the course of the day. Among the toxins that are flushed: the potentially memory-robbing protein fragments that can form plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
At the same time, the sleeping brain acts as a memory curator. You take in reams of information during the day. At night, when you’re finally freed from distraction, your brain decides what’s crucial to send to your long-term memory stores (which are boundless in capacity) and what’s okay to “forget”.
In addition, sleep may help procedural memory — what we use when learning how to perform a new skill, like learning to play the piano or to play pool. Activities that get practiced during the day get replayed and repeated in your brain while you sleep, even though you’re not intentionally practicing them.
While nothing beats seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, research suggests that naps may be helpful too. Research supports naps, at least when it comes to acing a recall-based test. For a 2013 University of Massachusetts Amherst study, researchers asked about 40 preschoolers to memorize pictures. Those who had napped before getting retested later in the day remembered more of what they had seen.
Let’s take memory enhancement one step further and get the most bang for your sleeping buck…academically speaking, that is. If you’re taking a test, giving a speech, or have an out of the ordinary event coming up, study/rehearse before sleeping. If that big event is happening later in the day, grab a nap after the final practice. For reasons unbeknownst to most, the last thing that you do often becomes a priority for your sleeping brain. If you have trouble napping or “wakeful resting”, try an app called “Nap 26”. It is a NASA-researched sleep app that effectively walks you into and out of a perfectly timed 26-minute nap.
Regardless of how and when you nap — take them as often as you can.