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60-Second Mind

Memory Improves with Sleep

Sleep plays a crucial role in better memory. Christie Nicholson reports

Want to remember something? Sleep on it.

A recent study finds that the more we value a piece of information the more likely we’ll review it during our sleep. And because we do that, we’ll tend to remember it.

Participants were shown objects with different corresponding dollar amounts on a computer screen. If participants could remember that object later on a test, they were rewarded with the associated dollar amount. Objects were also accompanied by an associated sound, for instance a cat was accompanied by a “meow.”

After either a 90-minute nap or wake period subjects’ memory for low-value objects was worse than for high-value objects.

In a second experiment associated sounds were played either when the subjects were awake or asleep, as a way to trigger the memory of the object.

Researchers found that low-value objects were better remembered when the associated sound was played during subjects’ sleep as opposed to when they were awake.

The authors believe that during sleep is when we tend to go over the day’s new information, so that is why they could manipulate the memory storage of lower-value objects during sleep time rather than wake time.

Gives new meaning to the term sound asleep.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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