How Does Sleep Affect Your Memory?

The Dalai Lama once said, “Sleep is the best meditation.”

Making sure you get at least eight hours of productive sleep a night is also one of the surest ways to keep a sharp mind. No matter how much one learns in their waking hours, it is during slumber that our day’s events are processed and formed into something we can remember and focus on later. Without proper sleep, our short-term memories can’t be transferred into the brain’s long-term hard drive, and there is little hope of ever remembering anything.

In order for something to become a memory, three processes must occur—all of which are linked to sleep:


First, there is the acquisition of memory. While we are awake, we learn about or experience something new. This event is registered in our short-term memory and stays there until we go to sleep.


During sleep, the body recharges and the brain replays the events of the day for review, consolidating and transferring them to the back of the brain and into our long-term memory. This process allows them to stick with us as stable entities.


Finally, upon waking up, we are able to enjoy recollection of these memories and can access them in the future.

Without a good night’s sleep, the storage of these memories is compromised, which affects not only our ability to concentrate on forming new memories during the day, but also to remember those that we’ve already spent time storing.

And not only is your brain holding onto valuable memories, it’s also wiping out the inconsequential stuff. As Maria Konnikova puts it in a recent article for the New York Times, “As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It’s clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking.”

We’ve all been there: tired, grumpy, brain’s a little foggy, and we aren’t able to recall names and facts like we normally can.

Here are a few tips to ensure a good night’s sleep that leads to a sharp memory:

Tip #1: Keep a routine.

Keeping set times for waking, eating, exercising, and going to bed helps keep the body in check and allows it to make the most of the sleep cycle.

Tip #2: Have fun in the Sun.

Although we are no longer the hunter-gatherer people living by the daylight hours, our bodies are still heavily regulated by sunlight. Spend time outdoors or near sunlight to help your body align with its circadian rhythm.

Tip #3: Talk to your doctor.

Pharmaceuticals can interfere with sleep. Talk to your doctor to make sure that any medications you are taking are properly timed and will not affect your ability to fall asleep.

We encourage you to try some of these techniques, and be mindful of how your mind and body react. Sweet dreams!

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