Do you know what kills me? When I have a busy day where I’ve learned a lot and follow it up with a crappy sleep. Not only does it guarantee mistakes the next day, but it wipes away my newly acquired knowledge. It’s like some of the words and ideas remain, but there appears to be a certain misunderstanding.
Maybe you can relate. It can be with anything—a book, television show, doctor’s instructions, etc.—that you learn and wish to retain. One night of poor sleep can make it seem like it almost never happened. In addition to obstructing memory, lack of sleep can make you far more prone to mistakes. Depending on what those mistakes are—like driving a car, for example—they can be quite costly.
New research from Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab shows that sleep deprivation doesn’t just inhibit focus, but it can influence cognitive functions like memory too.
Researchers enlisted 138 participants and randomly split them into two groups. Seventy-seven stayed in a lab overnight and were kept awake. The rest were allowed to go home and sleep as usual. The evening prior, each participant had to complete two tasks. One was to measure their reaction time to a stimulus, the other was to see how well they could follow steps to complete a process, even through distractions. The morning after the sleep/no-sleep, they had to repeat the tasks.
The group that went sleep-deprived struggled mightily. When the tasks were repeated, this group was twice as likely to make errors trying to follow complex procedures, and three times more likely to experience lapses in attention—a result the researchers found “startling.”
Getting a good night’s sleep plays a significant role in overall physical and mental health. This new study adds to a growing pile of research to suggest rest can play a significant role in memory and attention. To give yourself the best shot at getting a good night’s sleep every night—and perhaps improve memory—do whatever you can, including practicing sleep hygiene, avoiding stimulants, and eating a magnesium-rich diet.