Have you ever noticed that your memory is sharper after a good night’s sleep? Have you, on the other hand, noticed that staying up all night trying to memorize something for the next day doesn’t seem to work very well?
It has been long known that when you sleep, short term memories are stored as long-term ones, and that without sleep, significant memory impairment may be experienced. However, the relationship between sleep and memory, and how it physically plays out in the brain, is not yet understood.
A new study, performed by two graduate students at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, sheds a bit of light on the subject. The researchers found that in the brains of Drosophila flies, which can be compared structure and function-wise to those of humans, the same parts responsible for memory played a role in sleep.
The study authors wrote:
“Sleep promotes memory consolidation in humans and many other species, but the physiological and anatomical relationships between sleep and memory remain unclear. Here we show the dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons, which are required for memory consolidation in Drosophila, are sleep-promoting inhibitory neurons.”
Study co-author Bethany Christmann explained, “It’s almost as if that section of the mushroom body [a part of the Drosophila brain analogous to the hippocampus] were saying ‘hey, stay awake and learn this. Then, after a while, the DPM neurons start signaling to suppress that section, as if to say ‘you’re going to need sleep if you want to remember this later.'”
Christmann added, “knowing that sleep and memory overlap in the fly brain can allow researchers to narrow their search in humans. Eventually, it could help us figure out how sleep or memory is affected when things go wrong, as in the case of insomnia or memory disorders.”
The lesson here? If you’d like to retain the information that you’ve learned in a given day, it would likely really help to get a good night’s sleep.
-The Alternative Daily