Most of us know that without sleep, we are unable to create new memories. But is simply resting — without falling into the dreamy state — for only 10 minutes after learning something enough for us to memorize it in fine detail? Recent research suggests so.
Struggling to remember the details? Try resting quietly after learning, a new study suggests.
Sleep and memory are loving bedfellows. Sleep "blocks" our brain's mechanisms of forgetting, lowering the neurotransmitter dopamine, and therefore facilitating memory formation.
Furthermore, recent studies have revealed that sleep is key for consolidating memories that we made while awake, as well as for preserving the brain's ability to learn new things in the future.
For instance, a study revealed that during sleep, our synapses relax, staying supple and flexible, which maintains our brain's neuroplasticity and ability to learn.
On the other hand, poor sleep leads to rigid synapses and an impaired ability to learn new things in the long run.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, researchers have recently been able to interfere with the memory consolidation process that takes place during sleep by scanning people's brains, selectively choosing certain memories, and reinforcing them.
But could a state of simple, restful wakefulness be just as beneficial for new memory formation? A new study — jointly conducted by Michael Craig, a research fellow at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, and Michaela Dewar, a research leader and assistant professor at the same university — suggests that it can.
"Recent research," says Craig, "suggests that the memory system strengthens weak new memories by 'reactivating' them, where brain activity first observed during learning automatically reappears in the minutes that follow."
Based on the findings of their own research, the scientists say, "This appears especially true during sleep and quiet resting, when we're not busy taking in any new sensory information."
What's more, the new research suggests not only that a period of quiet restfulness helps us to remember new things, but that such a rest is crucial for retaining the fine details.