Sleep For Memory

September 22, 2015
Jihyun Woo  Gretchen Whitney High   11th grade

By Jihyun Woo
Gretchen Whitney High
11th grade

Everyone, especially students, has experienced firsthand the negative effects of sleep deprivation on proximate performance and thought processes. Immediate effects of sleep are very evident.

However, what not everyone may know is that sleep is also essential in the long run to preserve memory and thinking skills.

Centuries worth of research have demonstrated the enormous role that sleep plays in memory. Sleep deprivation is one of the primary causes of medical issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowed blood vessels. Any of these problems can result in poor blood flow within the body and brain.

Since brain cells require oxygen and energy for maximum productivity, low blood circulation limits their abilities to work at full potential.

A study conducted by Elizabeth Devore called the Nurses’ Health Study supports the hypothesis that seven to eight hours of sleep is the optimal amount for good memory maintenance over years. After inquiring female subjects about their sleeping habits and conducting a brain test three times over a six year period, Devore and her colleagues found that women who had slept five or fewer hours on average each night performed significantly worse than those who had slept seven to eight hours on average.

It was found that the under sleepers were mentally two years older than those who had gotten an adequate amount of sleep every night.

Another study has found support for a different way that a lack of sleep can affect long-term mental capabilities. This study, conducted on mice, found that sleep deprivation results in an increase in deposit of beta amyloid.

This is a protein that is associated with dementia and the decay of memory and thinking in humans. When pieces of this protein clump together, they build up into “plaques”. These clusters cling to nerve cell receptors, and erode their synapses, contact points between nerve cells where messages are passed from one to the other. Alzheimer’s, a serious mental disease that affects millions of people, is a consequence of this destruction of these synapses.

Although it may seem that sleep deprivation is something that can be easily recovered from with a few extra hours of sleep, research shows that this may not be the case. Lack of sleep has serious long-term consequences that need to be considered as well.

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