The Link Between Sleep and Memory Loss

March 09, 2022

The Link Between Sleep and Memory Loss

Scientists have spent countless hours, months, and even years researching various aspects to determine the relationship between memory and sleep. We know sleep plays a major role in regulating emotions, and allowing for healthy, safe decision making; however, sleep is also vital in making new memories, preserving important memories within the brain, and allowing unnecessary information to be filtered out.

Why is Sleep Important?

How much sleep is needed? According to Harvard medical school, research suggests that most people should receive a minimum of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. When a person consistently receives less sleep than the recommended hours, they run the risk of becoming sleep-deprived. Sleep helps the body maintain three functions:

  • A healthy hormone release
  • Muscle repair
  • Tissue growth

Restore the Body and Mind

Throughout the day, the body is subject to extreme stress in keeping up with daily tasks, and maintaining optimal body function to allow you to remain on the go. At night, the body can relax, rest, and reset to get ready to do it all again the next day. During this time, the body can detoxify the lymphatic system, which in turn boosts the immune system, helping the body to fight off infection.

Reduce Stress

As the primary stress hormone, Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream, as well as increases the brain’s use of this hormone to maintain proper functions. Sleep helps the body regulate cortisol production, as with a lack of sleep there is too much cortisol, making it harder for the body and mind to deal with stress.

Improve Memory

Sleep allows plenty of time for the body and mind to process what happened during waking hours. It allows the brain to store important information learned, and rid it of what is not needed. Healthy sleep also improves concentration, sharpens judgment, and allows for sound decision-making the next day to enhance the safety of you and those around you.

What is Sleep’s Role in Memory Loss?

The brain is responsible for strengthening neural connections, allowing memories to form; therefore, without enough sleep, the brain is unable to adequately store things learned during awake hours, leaving you unable to remember the next day or even days or months later. As the brain becomes sleep deprived, neurons become overworked and over-exhausted, unable to function appropriately.

Types of Memory

There are two common types of memories formed as you sleep:

Declarative Memories

Declarative memory, also known as explicit memory, is memories directly related to facts and knowledge that you make a deliberate effort to remember. An example of explicit memory is learning and making a point to remember the capital of the state of Texas. Declarative memories are stored in the temporal lobe of the brain, and rely on adequate sleep to make and store the memory.

Procedural Memories

Procedural memories are long-term memories related to motor function and sensory learning. These memories are stored in the cerebellum, and are what we need the most to function. An example of procedural memory is driving a car, or typing on a computer.

Symptoms of Memory Loss

There are many symptoms of memory loss, and these vary depending on the direct cause of memory loss, whether it be due to a traumatic brain injury, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or sleep deprivation. Common symptoms of memory loss include:

  • Repeatedly asking the same question
  • Anomic aphasia, or forgetting a common word when speaking
  • Confusing or mixing up words
  • Taking much longer than usual to complete a familiar task
  • Losing or misplacing items, such as phones, keys, or wallet
  • Being unable to remember what you have recently heard or read

Types of Memory Loss

Short-Term Memory Loss

With normal brain functioning, short-term memory allows the memory formation of a small piece of information that was just learned, such as a phone number you were recently told, to be stored in certain brain areas. When short-term memory problems occur, you experience an increase in memory problems affecting your ability to remember things recently seen, heard, or read. Although this is a normal part of aging, chronic sleep deprivation is commonly the culprit of short-term memory loss.

Long-Term Memory Loss

As you grow, healthy sleep allows the brain to form memories of events, facts, or how to complete tasks, and stores these memories in a safe space until it is needed. Quality sleep helps the brain strengthen neural passages to aid in learning and memory; however, when these neurons are overworked, there is a significant decrease in long-term memory accessibility.

How is Sleep Connected to Memory?

Have you recently learned something new? The general consensus is that learning and memory require a good night’s rest to process and store the information. As you sleep, the brain cycles through different stages, including light sleep, deep NREM sleep, and REM sleep. These stages alternate every 60 to 90 minute,s allowing for healthy sleep. Current research suggests dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement sleep, while NREM sleep actually primes the brain for the learning process.

The hippocampus is one of the most common brain areas that are responsible for making memories, and requires healthy sleep for optimal function. Findings suggest when sleep problems are present, memory processing is greatly affected, resulting in memory problems, sleep loss, and the inability to learn efficiently.

How is Sleep Connected to Memory Loss?

Poor sleep quality has been proven to have a direct link to difficulty learning and memory formation. For proper memory function, the brain must go through three primary actions:

  • Acquisition: learning and/or experiencing something new
  • Consolidation: fusing the new information into the brain
  • Recall: accessing the memory once it has been formed and stored away

Sleep deprivation, or not getting enough sleep, affects the way learning and memory occur. Researchers suggest that sleeping plays an important role in consolidating memories; therefore, poor sleep can affect memory greatly.

As previously mentioned, memories are stored in the hippocampus. When these memories need to be accessed, neural pathways allow the hippocampus to transmit the information to the prefrontal cortex where it is made available to you. Without quality sleep, the hippocampus does not release the needed information, leaving a person to experience memory loss.

How does Sleep Loss Affect Brain Function?

Getting two to three hours of shut-eye often leaves us cranky and more irritable than usual; however, poor quality sleep also affects brain health, and can affect memory. Learning and memory are vital to brain functions, allowing us to go through daily activities without thinking twice. Without deep sleep, or adequate sleep, brain health declines significantly, leaving us more susceptible to impaired decision making, poor judgment, and illness.

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Memory Loss

Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder affecting more than 936 million people worldwide each year. Obstructive sleep apnea results in periodic pauses in breathing, and affects the brain's ability to consolidate and encode memories into the brain, making it more difficult to recall memories as you need them.

Sleep clinicians have reported a connection between sleep apnea and depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other sleep disorders, leaving them to suffer from poor sleep habits and frequent waking. Harvard medical school reports, women are more likely to experience sleep apnea as they age.

Tips to Get Better Sleep

At Eco Terra, we understand the need for adequate sleep each night, as even one night of poor quality of sleep can affect a person’s daily life. Our team of expert researchers has joined together to compile the most recommended sleep tips.

Daily Exercise

Researchers report daily exercise can help the body to wind down at the end of a long day. It is important that you not exercise too closely to bedtime to allow the body time to relax after being stimulated by the workout.

Avoid Caffeine

Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and consuming large meals too close to bedtime can alter how quickly you are able to fall asleep.

Implement a Bedtime Routine

Curating a bedtime routine gives your body a “heads up” that sleep is approaching. It is important to stick to this routine every night, including weekends. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable, quiet oasis, ideal for a good night’s sleep to help your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep every night. Some people find that melatonin sleep medicine is helpful.

Avoid Blue Light

Researchers report a higher success rate of better sleep when a person turns off or completely removes the television from the bedroom. The lighting from the television alters the pathways of the brain, essentially “tricking” the brain into thinking it is wake time, rather than sleep time.

Keep it Cool

While it depends upon your preferences, many people find they sleep better when they keep their bedroom cooler (around 68 degrees).  A too warm bedroom may cause you to awaken during the night.

Eco Terra is Here for You

The team at Eco Terra has developed natural sleep products, such as the Eco Terra Natural Hybrid Latex Mattress and the Eco Terra 100% Natural Latex Topper, for a deep, comfortable sleep night after night. With free delivery, and a 90-night trial period, we make it easier than ever to love your new mattress, or return it with the help of one of our friendly customer service associates.

Whether you are experiencing sleep-disordered breathing, or are struggling with sleep deprivation, we have a mattress to fit your needs to amplify the quality of sleep received each night.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.