Are Sleep & Memory same side of a coin?

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Miguel de Cervantes a Spanish poet centuries ago said, “From reading too much and sleeping too little, his brain dried up on him and he lost his judgement”.

Today there is a lot of scientific research and data that backs this phrase. Sleep and mind have a deep connection. To know how they are connected we need to first understand the process our mind goes through to create memories and then what role does sleep have in this.

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More about Memory and Its Creation

Our day-to day memories are created from the information we gather through the following three ways:

  1. Facts: This information is gathered when one sees, hears, or reads factual data for example remembering name of country, capital, and people etc.
  2. Events: This information is gathered when one goes through a personal experience triggering an emotion for example first love, break-up, accident, birth, death etc.
  3. Instructional: This memory is created through motor functions and our 5 senses i.e. through repetition or practice, for example, riding a bike, knowing that tomato is rotten (through smell, touch, sight), ability to cook without reading instruction etc.

To convert this information into long and short-term memories our brain must go through Acquisition, Consolidation, and Recall stages. These stages are critical in process of storing this information and retrieving them later in the future as a memory.

Connection between Memory and Sleep


How we sleep directly affects our minds ability to process the information that we have seen and learnt during the day. Our ability to learn and recall happens when we are awake however our ability to stick that memory in our mind (Consolidation) depends on how well we sleep (includes both quantity and quality).

A good night’s sleep helps in strengthening our immune system by flushing out toxins and in saving new information. Our mind has the ability to segregate the information learnt so that where required it can be merged to an existing memory for example, you are learning dance choreography in parts daily but at the end of two weeks you remember the entire sequence learnt from day one.

A sleep deprived mind’s ability to save information is adversely impacted and the best example of how sleep affects memory is to look back in time when you might have pulled an all-nighter before an exam and noticed that despite studying all night you had difficulty in remembering the answer(s). Therefore, a good night’s sleep is extremely necessary for better memory retention and recall.

Impact of Sleep on memory across Age groups

Not getting regular quality and quantity sleep impacts not only memory, but also overall mental and physical health. Studies have shown how sleep deprivation can impact memory irrespective of age.

Children and adult teens (aged 8-20): Kids suffering from a sleep disorders like nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking, restless leg syndrome etc. often have difficulty in focusing and concentrating at school, trouble recollecting poems, spellings, and other factual data. With correct diagnosis and treatment children can lead a healthy and normal life.

Middle aged (aged 30-45): Researchers believe that middle-aged people who sleep less are susceptible to diseases and conditions related to memory like Alzheimer’s and depreciating cognitive skills much earlier in their life span. Apart from memory prolonged sleep deprivation can cause diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular problems, obesity, depression etc.

Tips on Creating a Good Sleep Hygiene

The following tips when incorporated in daily routine will 100% help achieve a good night’s sleep.

  • Create and sincerely follow your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Include 30-45minutes physical exercise of mild-high intensity.
  • Eat and drink health. Avoid heavy, oily, spicy meal at night.
  • Check on how much and when you consume stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and smoke i.e. avoid these close to bedtime.
  • Keep away from electronics before bed instead de-stress through music, reading, meditation and hot shower.

To conclude, understand and appreciate a good night’s sleep as it’s one of the primary contributors to good health. It is probably the simplest and effortless thing we can do to improve and maintain our mental and physical health quotient.



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