Getting more sleep can improve memory that connects names and faces

EVANSTON, Fig .– Are you having a hard time remembering someone’s name right after meeting them? The solution can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. A new study shows that deep sleep helps improve memory reactivation in the brain so people can better associate names with faces.

A team from Northwestern University is the first to document the link between this sleep benefit and memory performance. Their study looked at how well a group of young adults remembered a group of names after taking a nap. Each volunteer took a specific memory test before repeating the test after reaching deep sleep.

“This is a new and exciting finding about sleep because it tells us that the way information is reactivated during sleep to improve memory retention is linked to quality sleep,” says lead author Nathan Whitmore , Ph.D. Candidates in Northwestern’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, in a news release.

You Can Really Learn While You Sleep!

The researchers measured electrical activity in the brains of 24 participants between the ages of 18 and 31 who took naps after taking the memory test. Each person had to memorize the faces and names of 40 students in a fictional Latin American history class and 40 students in a Japanese history class.

The study authors showed the participants each face one more time and asked the group to find the real names of these hypothetical students. Afterward, participants took a nap while researchers monitored brain activity through EEG scans. When a participant reached state N3 (or deep sleep), the team played some of the student names softly over a loudspeaker along with music related to their class (Latin American or Japanese story).

The results show that those who achieved deep, uninterrupted sleep experienced memory reactivation that improved their recall skills upon waking. On average, due to their improved memory, they were able to remember 1.5 more names when the study authors carried out the name test again.

Bad sleep can affect memory

While good, restful sleep appears to improve memory functions, researchers note that poor quality sleep can do just the opposite.

“We already know that some sleep disorders like apnea can affect memory,” explains Whitmore. “Our research suggests a possible explanation for this – frequent sleep interruptions at night could impair memory.”

The team is now conducting a follow-up experiment and examining how a conscious sleep disorder affects certain areas of the brain that are connected to memory.

“With this new line of research, we can answer a lot of interesting questions – for example, whether sleep disorders are always harmful or whether they could be used to weaken unwanted memories,” says Ken Paller, senior author and professor of psychology. “In any case, we are increasingly finding good reasons to attach importance to high-quality sleep.”

The results appear in the journal NPJ: Science of Learning.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *