More on the Importance of Sleep and Memory
Scott McDougall, Academic Coach
Last week’s “Word on Wellness” column highlighted a recently published research review in the Journal of Neuroscience about the linkage between REM sleep and memory consolidation. A few days after I read that journal article, I read Lower School teacher Lane Water’s blog “How to Build a Stronger Memory with the Four Power Tools of Memory”. After reading Lane’s comment that, “Forgetting is actually a good thing for your memory, so asking students to space out their retrieval of the information helps them learn it more effectively” I recalled reading another journal article about the importance of memory decay (forgetting) and sleep. This Journal of Neuroscience article highlights sleep’s role in development, memory updating, resetting, and forgetting.
In 1953 Nobel Laureates James Watson and Francis Crick presented their seminal research that decoded the three-dimensional shape of DNA, which serves as the chemical blueprint for life. Thirty years later Crick and colleague Graham Mitcheson published an article, a tangential inquiry, related to sleep and its possible evolutionary utility. Unequivocally, sleep is one variable affecting one’s wellness, and the REM stage of sleep and its impact on memory (sleeping to remember) is a well-researched field, albeit with conflicting views over the research trajectory. UCLA’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology Dr. Gina Poe’s research examines the theoretically-based hypothesis posited by Crick and Mitcheson in 1983. “It is possible that one of the essential functions of sleep is to take out the garbage, as it were, erasing and ‘forgetting’ information built upon throughout the day that would clutter the synaptic network that defines us” (pg. 464). Poe’s preliminary research may suggest that REM sleep has a sort of duality: strengthening memory pathways and also pruning and reshaping synaptic circuitry to facilitate new memory consolidation. “Thus, although sleep may serve to remember, sleep is essential for the targeted, careful forgetting…” (pg. 471).
The research focused on the relationship between REM sleep and memory will evolve and continue to inform practitioners and professionals from education to healthcare. What should not be lost in the minutia of academic papers and shifting perspectives and study replications is the fact that sleep impacts health and health impacts learning. Proper sleep hygiene and maintenance are critical to broad wellness discussions and considerations.