June 14, 2009
Sleeping Soon After Emotionally Salient Learning Improves Memory Formation

Yet another study pointing to the importance of sleep for new memory formation.

WESTCHESTER, Ill. – According to a research abstract that will be presented on Thursday, June11, at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, sleep selectively preservers memories that are emotionally salient and relevant to future goals when sleep follows soon after learning. Effects persist for as long as four months after the memory is created.

Results indicate that the sleeping brain seems to calculate what is most important about an experience and selects only what is adaptive for consolidation and long term storage. Across long delays of 24 hours, or even three–to-four months, sleeping soon after learning preserved the trade-off (compared to waiting an entire day before going to sleep).

According to lead author, Jessica Payne, PhD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston MA, It was surprising that in addition to seeing the enhancement of negative memories over neutral scenes, there was also selectivity within the emotional scenes themselves, with sleep only consolidating what is most relevant, adaptive and useful about the scenes. It was even more surprising that this selectivity lasted for a full day and even months later if sleep came soon after learning.

Click thru and read the details. In a nutshell: you are better off learning things between 7 and 9 PM (since that is closer to when you fall asleep) than between 9 and 11 AM.

Payne said that sleep is beneficial for memory and that we remember things best when we 'stagger' our learning episodes across time.

Another study found that if you learn one task and then take a nap before learning a second task that you'll learn faster. You are better off consolidating your learning on one subject before moving on to another subject.

Quality of sleep matters. A study on rats found that slow wave and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep are needed for memory consolidation. There's an aging angle to sleep and memory formation. Old people generally do not sleep as soundly. Well, poor sleep quality impairs memory formation in aging rats. One more reason we need rejuvenation therapies.

My advice: move your learning tasks to the end of the day. Read the technical book or do practice on some skill before bed time. If you can manage to do naps then learn and do mental exercises before napping.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 June 14 01:28 PM  Brain Sleep

OneSTDV said at June 15, 2009 6:27 AM:

This should be required reading for any college student. When I was in college, I sometimes dreamed about material I had just studied. I also sometimes awoke and my first thought instantly was about that material. This corroborates my anecdotal evidence.

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