memory and sleepMaybe you’re starting to have the occasional “senior moment.”

Maybe you’re not there yet – but regardless, you don’t want them.

Or maybe you just love learning and want to make sure you can keep doing it.

For whatever reason, you’re looking to improve your memory.

So you’ve started doing crossword puzzles and those brain games they advertise on television.

But have you looked at how well you’re sleeping? Have you even considered how sleep and memory might be related and how it may even improve your memory?

Because if you haven’t, you may want to – and you may find yourself surprised at how sleep can improve your memory.

How Memory Works

There are two types of memory: declarative and procedural.

Declarative memory is what you know. Facts, numbers, names. When you talk about wanting to improve your memory, declarative memory is probably what you’re talking about.

Procedural memory is how you do things. From playing the piano to eating with a fork and knife, the “how” is all procedural memory.

And they can work together. That crossword puzzle you’re doing to help improve memory? Knowing how to do the puzzle is procedural memory, while knowing which words go in which blanks is declarative.

What we’ve learned is that there is a correlation between sleep and memory and that sleep can in turn improve memory – both declarative and procedural. In fact, sleep is vital to creating memories.

How Sleep and Memory Work Together

People learn in three stages – acquisition, consolidation, and recall. Acquisition is the part where you learn the thing.

Consolidation is where you file the thing away, into your memory. And recall is where you, well, recall the thing.

What researchers have come to understand is that while acquisition and recall happen when you’re awake, consolidation takes place while you’re asleep.

In other words, you need sleep in order to lock knowledge, experiences and skills into your memory so you don’t forget them.

If it’s a declarative memory, or a procedural one, sleep improves memory by locking them in place and storing them for later recall.

In fact, in one ground-breaking study, people who were allowed to sleep after learning something new were able to access memories noticeably faster, more accurately, and with less stress than the people who were not given enough sleep.

The Results of Sleep Deprivation

And that’s not the only way sleep and memory are tied together. Not only do you need sleep to improve your memory, but you need sleep to make memories.

See, when you are tired and sleep deprived, you’re not as focused. That means you’re more likely to forget where you put your keys down – and that can make you feel like you’ve got a memory problem.

But also, when you’re tired and not focused, it’s harder to learn things in the first place.

The new information doesn’t get solidly into your short-term memory, so it can never take its place in your long-term memory – especially if you’re not getting enough sleep. And that will give you a memory problem.

Now, the truth is that a night or two of restless sleep isn’t enough to throw off your memory. But if you’re getting six hours of sleep or less per night on a regular basis, then lack of sleep is affecting your memory.

However, the good news is that sleep can also improve your memory. It’s not too late.

Get the Sleep Your Memory Needs

If you’re having a hard time getting enough sleep to improve your memory, try some of these tips:

  • Make your bedroom a peaceful place. You’re more likely to sleep somewhere peaceful than chaotic.
  • Turn off all electronics. And do this 30 minutes before you fall asleep. Don’t get in the habit of watching television or being on the computer in bed.
  • Unwind before bedtime. Take a hot bath, have a cup of caffeine-free tea, listen to ambient music – whatever relaxes you. Just be sure to take some time to delineate between the hectic day and the peaceful night.
  • Exercise during the day because it will help you sleep at night – but not too close to bedtime. Leave at least a two to three hour window between finishing your workout and crawling into bed.

Before you worry too much about sleep and memory, be sure you’re getting enough hours in the night to improve your memory!

After all, sleep is a key component of making - and keeping - your best memories.