One Simple Step to Improve Memory Function in Seniors
Most people know that when you get a good night’s sleep, you feel better and may even seem mentally sharper. A series of new studies cement the hypothesis that getting a good night’s sleep can also improve your memory. The theory had fallen out of favor in the past decades, but several new studies show a strong link between a good night’s sleep and improved memory.
In one study conducted by Susanne Deikelmann of the University of Tubingen in Germany, subjects who were asked to learn word pairings and then permitted two full nights of sleep did better at remembering than those who were allowed to sleep only one night. Additionally, and perhaps not surprisingly, the subjects who were also told they would have to recall the word pairings later, and then were permitted two full nights of sleep, did best of all.
Simply knowing that you’ll need information at a later date and focusing on that information can improve your memory, while getting enough sleep help’s commit that information to memory.
Memories Strengthened During Sleep
There is also evidence, based on a study conducted by Ken Paller’s lab at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, that information presented while a subject is awake, and again while they are asleep, is more easily remembered.
In this study, subjects moved different objects to various locations on a computer. As they moved the object, they heard the sound it would make – such as a meow for a cat, or a teakettle’s whistle. Those sounds were played again, at low volume, while the test subjects slept. Those who heard the sounds in their sleep were better able to recall the locations of the objects on the screen.
Finally, a third study headed by Dylan Barnes and Donald Wilson, PhD, of the City University of New York, the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and New York University Langone Medical School showed that rats remembered specific odors, delivered via electrical stimulation to brain circuits involved in odor processing, better when those odors were repeated in their sleep.
The second part of the study introduced new odors to the sleeping rats. The rats could not distinguish from the odors introduced for the first time while they were awake and those they encountered only in their sleep.
While this study has numerous implications for treating victims of post-traumatic stress, essentially providing a means to “re-write” bad memories, it also has strong implications for memory preservation. It shows that repeating memories during sleep can strengthen someone’s ability to recall those memories during the day.
Implications for Seniors with Memory Loss
While these studies by no means present a cure for age-related memory loss, Alzheimer’s or dementia, the discoveries may help seniors recall important information. If there is something you need to remember, from where you normally keep your glasses when you’re not wearing them to names of important people, play a recording of that information in your sleep. This can also help seniors taking adult education classes to stay sharp and do well on tests.
The second part of the equation? Whether you choose to play recordings of important information or not, just getting a good night’s sleep every night can improve your memory.
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