How Your Sleep Might Be Affecting Your Memory

As anyone who's ever pulled an all-nighter (a.k.a. anyone who went to college) knows, losing a night of sleep can leave you in something of a mental fog the next day. There's a reason that doctors recommend getting a full night's sleep the night before a big test; according to research, sleep makes memories more accessible. For those of you still in school, you're welcome. For those of us who graduated a little too late for this information, I'm sorry. I feel your pain.

Researchers from the University of Exeter teamed up with their colleagues at the Basque Center for Cognition, Brain and Language for the study, which was published in Cortex this month. According to Science Daily, volunteers were presented with a series of made-up words and asked to recall them twice. The first time was immediately after learning the words, but the second time was after 12 hours. Here's where the groups differed: one unfortunate group stayed awake for the next 12 hours, while the other volunteers were allowed to sleep as usual.

Considering the amount of research linking sleep and memory, it probably won't come as a surprise to hear that sleep was connected to improved scores on the retest. Unlike previous studies, though, this particular study focused on how sleep improves recall rather than preventing memory loss.

According to Dr. Nicholas Dumay, researchers found that "sleep almost doubles our chances of remembering previously unrecalled material," which indicates that sleep could serve as an opportunity to sharpen memories that were previously forgotten. "This supports the notion that, while asleep, we actively rehearse information flagged as important," Dumay explains.

Sleep has been linked to all sorts of health benefits in the past. A study earlier this year found that getting a full night's rest appears to improve decision-making, and power naps have previously been shown to boost your memory. It's even thought to improve your sex life! (EYOOOO.) Unfortunately, though, it all goes both ways, too: Lack of sleep has been linked to false memories and a range of health problems. Yikes.

So what does all this mean for you? That's easy, actually. Next time your friends are trying to get you out of the house for happy hour, make sure to point them to this study as a reason for you to get some sleep instead, then snuggle up with some Netflix and go to town.

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