Health researchers have already determined that a good night’s sleep can improve memory and enhance learning ability. But now they’ve discovered exactly why that is. A Chinese research team from the Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School and health experts from New York University’s School of Medicine used mice to examine the role sleep plays in memory and learning development.
The researchers, who published their study in the journal Science, found that mice who slept well (getting seven hours of sleep or more) formed a greater number of connections between neurons, indicating that they were learning more. Researchers also found that deep (or slow-wave) sleep was crucial in allowing for memory formation. It is only during this stage that the brain can “replay” activity from earlier in the day.
According to Professor Wen-Biao Gan, the findings are both new and important. “Learning that sleep promotes new connections between neurons is new, nobody knew this before,” Gan said. “We thought sleep helped, but it could have been other causes, and we show it really helps to make connections and that in sleep the brain is not quiet, it is replaying what happened during the day and it seems quite important for making the connections.”
This is the second major study in two years to show the importance of sleep. Last year a similar study showed that a good night’s sleep wipes away the waste toxins produced during a day of intense thinking. In other words, for those who use their minds at work, a decent sleep is absolutely crucial. The dangers associated with lack of sleep are well known. Failing to get a decent sleep over a period of time can increase the risk of developing diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer.