Employee Benefits

Sleep Helps Improve Memory, Enhances Problem-Solving

If you want to remember what you’ve read or studied during the day or need to solve a problem, scientists promote the power of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleeping helps strengthen memories created throughout the day and enables the brain to connect to previous ones. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that sleeping before learning helps prepare the mind for new information, and sleeping afterwards allows the brain to save new information so it isn’t forgotten.

While sleeping, the brain goes through several cycles of sleep, from light levels to rapid eye movement, known as REM or dream-level sleep. These cycles repeat every 90 minutes. Scientists believe the non-REM sleep mode is where the brain prepares for learning experiences the next day. Conversely, lack of sleep could reduce learning ability by at least 90 percent.

Is it possible to solve problems while you sleep?
During sleep, the brain goes back through experiences and memories incurred throughout the day and makes decisions on what to keep and what to discard. People who go to bed meditating on a problem and enjoy seven or eight hours of restful sleep, actually may wake up with a solution.

Sleep patterns change with age
As people age, often they struggle with sleeping, which inhibits the brain’s ability to review and enhance memories. NIH reports that researchers are studying options to help older adults enjoy longer periods of deep sleep, which may improve age-related memory issues.

Do naps help or hinder?
Researchers have different opinions on the value of napping. Some suggest that a short nap, less than 45 minutes, can help boost performance, while other studies indicate that a 90-minute nap is a better choice for strengthening memories. But all agree that taking a nap late in the day may interfere with nighttime sleep.

To learn more about recent research on sleep, review these articles and studies:

Sleep Helps Learning, Memory

Can Napping Improve Your Memory?

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

Sleeping On it Helps Memories Stick

The Role of Memory Reactivation During Wakefulness and Sleep in Determining Which Memories Endure 

Concurrent Synaptic and Systems Memory Consolidation During Sleep

National Institutes of Health