If you are losing half night’s sleep, chances are that you’ll face trouble in recalling memories when in stressful situation.
Researchers from Uppsala University, Sweden, have shown that sleep does not only help form long-term memory but also ensures access to it during times of cognitive stress.
Following a learning session in the evening during which 15 participants learned 15 card pair locations on a computer screen, in one experimental session subjects slept for half a night (4-hr) and in the other for a full night (8-hr). The next morning subjects were asked to recall as many card pair locations as possible. What the researchers found was that half a night of sleep (4-hr) was as powerful as a full night of sleep (8-hr) to form long-term memories for the learned card pair locations.
However, the study also revealed that stress had an impact on the participants’ ability to recall these memories. The men were acutely stressed for 30 minutes in the morning after a half or full night of sleep. Following short sleep this stress exposure reduced their ability to recall these card pair locations by around 10 percent.
In contrast, no such stress-induced impairment was seen when the same men were allowed to sleep for a full night.
The two important take home messages were: First, even though losing half a night of sleep may not impair memory functions under baseline conditions, the addition of acute cognitive stress may be enough to lead to significant impairments, which can possibly be detrimental in real-world scenarios. Second, interventions such as delaying school start times and greater use of flexible work schedules, that increase available snooze time for those who are on habitual short sleep, may improve their academic and occupational performance by ensuring optimal access to memories under stressful conditions, said Jonathan Cedernaes, researcher at Uppsala University.
The study is published in the scientific journal SLEEP.