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  » Medical News Archive  »  A Good Night's Sleep Improves Memory
by HealthDay News
    Improve your recollection by getting enough Zzzs
New research shows sleep is critical in building and maintaining memories, particularly the kind dealing with facts and events. The report is published in the July 11, 2006 issue of Current Biology .

This kind of memory is known as "declarative" memory, which differs from non-declarative memories, or "how to" memories. Sleep has already been shown to help those.

This new finding may be particularly important for people with mentally demanding lifestyles, such as doctors, medical residents and college students, who often do not get enough sleep, the researchers say.

"We sought to explore whether sleep has any impact on memory consolidation," says lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School's Center for Sleep and Cognition. "Specifically, the type of memory for facts and events in time."

Ellenbogen's team studied 60 people not on prescription drugs and who didn't have known sleep disorders or abnormal sleep patterns. Among these, 48 were assigned to one of four groups: sleep before testing, wake before testing, sleep before testing with interference, or wake before testing with interference.

Everyone first attempted to memorize 20 paired words. They were tested 12 hours later for recall. People in the interference groups were also schooled in a second list of 20 word-pairs just before testing--these were the "distracting" or interfering words that made remembering the first bunch of word-pairs even tougher.

In addition, another 12 people were placed on a longer, 24-hour program with either interference and sleep or wakefulness.

People in the non-interference groups had mean recall that was slightly higher in the sleep group compared with the wake group. Moreover, people in the interference group who were able to sleep still did significantly better on the recall than did the wake group.

"Sleep had a benefit for the consolidation and strengthening of memory," Ellenbogen says. "It actively does so; it's not a passive process. The brain actively engages memories and leads them to be strengthened the next day, and it's a long-lasting benefit."