My Lovely Wife will tell you that I sleep like a log, often to her dismay, since she’s the one who’s always hauling herself out of bed in the middle of the night to investigate some cat-created mayhem. I don’t remember a thing about these incidents when I rise, refreshed and happy, each morning, but a new study suggests that my memory actually benefits from all those uninterrupted Zs.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found a link between “slow-wave” sleep and memory among oldsters like myself. Here’s how it works: The slow brain waves created by deep restorative sleep help to transport memories of recent events from the hippocampus to the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s long-term “hard drive.” As we age, those periods of deep REM sleep become fewer and farther between, so short-term memories tend to get stuck in the hippocampus, then obscured by newer memories and thus forgotten.
“When we are young, we have deep sleep that helps the brain store and retain new facts and information,” Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study, said in a statement released by the university. “But as we get older, the quality of our sleep deteriorates and prevents those memories from being saved by the brain at night.”
The solution? Transcranial direct current stimulation. That’s right: Just hook up some electrodes to your head prior to crawling into bed, and with a flip of the switch a low-voltage electrical current will run through your pre-frontal cortex and you’ll be happily snoozing away in no time. And remember the whole thing when you get up in the morning. This has actually be tested on folks by neuroscientists in Germany.
The other option, I suppose, would be to be a bit more mindful about what you’re doing prior to bedtime. Most experts suggest that you avoid caffeine, alcohol and large meals and be sure to get a little exercise each day. MLW, by the way, gets to sleep in most mornings; she’s generally REM-ing along quite nicely by the time the cats are waking me up to get their breakfast. And, believe me, she remembers everything.