How sleep makes memory stronger confirmed

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
How a good night's sleep helps memory uncovered
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Getting a good night's sleep has been linked to brain health in the past. But now researchers have mapped what happens in the brain when we sleep well that really does make us smarter.

Mouse studies confirm sleep boosts memory

For the first time researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine have confirmed sleep boosts memory and increases learning ability.

In mice sleep after learning new tasks produced new dendrite cells that pass signals from brain cells known as neurons. But that happened only when the mice were allowed to go to sleep after learning.

What the study suggests is that sleep helps us retain new memories for the long-term.

Professor Wen-Biao Gan, of New York University, said: 'We have known for a long time sleep plays an important role in learning and memory. If you do not sleep well you will not learn well."

Most of us can testify that lack of sleep leads to muddled thinking,

Sleep makes new memories stronger

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The researchers tracked what happens in mouse brains after practicing balancing on a spin rod - akin to riding a bike - for 60-minutes, The researchers used a laser scanning microscope that illuminates fluorescent proteins in the brain.

One group was allowed to sleep for 7 hours and the other stayed awake for the same amount of time.

The mouse group that didn't sleep had significantly less growth of dendritic cells compared to the mice that slept.

The researchers were also able to show sleep reactivates cells in the motor cortex that are activated when the mice learned a new task.

Furthermore, the type of brain cells that grow during sleep depends on the type of task learned. For example, different dendrites grew in the mouse brain's when then ran forward on the spin rod compared to running backwards.

"Now we know that when we learn something new, a neuron will grow new connections on a specific branch," says Dr. Gan in a press release. "Imagine a tree that grows leaves (spines) on one branch but not another branch. When we learn something new, it's like we're sprouting leaves on a specific branch."

The study is published in the journal Science and supports a recent finding that lack of sleep cal lead to loss of brain cells.

The finding is a first to confirm how sleep can help boost brain power and help boost memory associated with learning new tasks. A good night of sleep changes the brain physically to strengthen new memories. For optimal brain health you should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Related:

Why sleep is more important than you might know
Can an afternoon nap boost memory?
Loss of sleep and Alzheimer's disease: The link grows clearer

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