A Sound Night's Sleep Creates Strong Memories

Posted by Admin on June 27, 2008
Two recent studies detailed in the latest issue of Science journal are providing more evidence that a good night's sleep can play an important role in cementing memories formed during the day. One new study has discovered a new region of the brain involved, along with the hippocampus, with creating memories of the day's activities during sleep. A second study suggests that melatonin, a hormone involved in regulating our circadian rhythm, acts to suppress the formation of new memories as bed time approaches. This could possibly function to give memories made early in the day a chance to be prepared for long-term storage.

The first study found that the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for retrieval of distant memories, was also found to replay the day's events during sleep. Scientists observed the brain activity of rats while they ran on a track and afterward while they slept. While they were active the brain cells were sending electrical signals in specific patterns over time.

When the rats were sleeping, the researchers found that the same patterns were being observed but at seven times the speed observed during activity. The study suggests that the medial prefrontal cortex's fast-forward replay of the day%u2019s memories during sleep could be evidence that our brains can process information much faster when we're not busy with tasks.

The second study suggests that, in order to ensure memory consolidation is unhindered, our brains might have mechanisms that inhibit the formation of new memories as we approach bedtime. Scientists conducted experiments on zebrafish that were trained to perform a task during the day, when melatonin levels are low, and during night when levels are at their peak.

They found the fish had trouble performing the following day if the training was done during the night or if the fish were administered a dose of melatonin during the day. Although human memories are more complex than a zebrafish, the basic application of melatonin still applies on a basic level.

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