There are numerous ways to improve your memory. The best method, however, may actually be the easiest. Sleep is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to preserving memories and improving overall mental health.
In a study conducted earlier this year, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, observed that when subjects were shown images of objects and then either allowed to sleep or forced to remain awake, those who were denied sleep weren’t as able to recall what they’d seen with the same clarity as their well-rested counterparts. Sleep, the researchers concluded, enhances our memories, while wakefulness causes them to decay.
Even small disruptions in sleep can have an impact on the quality of the memories we store, and that includes motor skills. A separate study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found that it’s not just the hours you spend between the sheets but also the quality of your sleep that is crucial for cementing memories. Subjects whose sleep was disrupted several times throughout the night were significantly less able to perform a newly learned physical skill than the more well-rested control group.
This echoes the research of a group of scientists who presented their findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology earlier this year. When the brains of mentally healthy people were monitored nightly over a two-week period, subjects who experienced more than five sleep disruptions per hour demonstrated increased levels of amyloid plaques in the brain—an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease—suggesting that sleep also plays a critical role in overall mental health.