The neighbors are noisy, your baby is teething, and you have a difficult meeting scheduled with your boss tomorrow.

Author : torunlota
Publish Date : 2021-01-08 13:55:22


The neighbors are noisy, your baby is teething, and you have a difficult meeting scheduled with your boss tomorrow.

The neighbors are noisy, your baby is teething, and you have a difficult meeting scheduled with your boss tomorrow. Falling and staying asleep is not easy. And it’s no surprise when you don’t feel your best in the morning.
“Several decades of research conducted in controlled laboratory settings have illuminated the impact of inadequate sleep quality and quantity on neurocognitive performance as well as psychological and physical fitness, readiness, and health,” says Rachel Markwald and Anne Germain, editors of the journal Sleep Medicine Clinics.
Sleep affects people’s ability to remember. “Short-term sleep deprivation is known to lead to deficits in performance in memory,” and over time can result in far-reaching disruption to mental processing, explains neuroscientists Carlos Puentes-Mestril and Sara Aton, University of Michigan, US.


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But is there a way of improving sleep and its impact on memory?
The idea of super-charging human memory has “penetrated culture via sci-fi movies and inspired the invention of devices that claimed to teach foreign languages, facts, and even quit smoking by simply listening to audiocassettes or other devices during sleep,” explains psychologists, Nicola Cellini, from the University of Padova, Italy, and Sara Mednick, from the University of California, Irvine.
And yet, science is clear, while “the sleeping brain is unable to acquire new complex information (i.e., words, images, and facts),” it can be “manipulated to strengthen the memory of recently acquired information,” says Cellini and Mednick.
A recent review, appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods, explores the latest therapies that target memory during sleep. Past research has focussed on periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — small, fast eye movements, believed to be associated with dreaming — while more recently, attention has shifted to non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Made up of short bursts of electrical activity — known as sleep spindles — and periods of very deep sleep — known as slow-wave sleep, NREM has been linked both to improved brain functioning and the clearance of waste products.
Cellini and Mednick describe two overlapping, models proposed to explain how NREM sleep consolidates memories — transforming learned experiences into long-term memories.
According to the synaptic homeostasis model, synapses — structures that pass electrical or chemical signals between neurons — are strengthened during the day in response to learning, then weaken overnight to enable a repeat the following day.
The active system consolidation model proposes that, while people are awake, memories are stored — or encoded — in the hippocampus. “During NREM sleep, memories in the hippocampus are replayed, resulting in transfer of the memory for storage in the neocortex,” says Malkani and Zee. The hippocampus no longer holds on to the memories but readies itself overnight for new information the next day.
Increasing the length and the frequency of slow-wave sleep, and sleep spindles, during NREM can lead to improvements in mental performance and reduce memory loss during aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Several non-invasive techniques are being explored — with varying degrees of success — to enhance such memory consolidation during sleep.
Using electrodes to stimulate the brain’s electrical activity has had little success. While applying electromagnetic fields has been shown to increase neural plasticity — the brain’s ability to respond to the environment. However, both techniques require expensive, uncomfortable equipment, trained technicians and can cause headaches and fatigue.
Acoustic and olfactory stimulation — prompting the patient with specific noises and smells — is more easily administered, even at home, and research has reported some significant improvements to sleep and memory.
According to Malkani and Zee, ‘pink noise’ — softer than white noise and mimicking sounds found in nature, such as a waterfall or gentle waves — increases slow-wave sleep and spindle density. A 2013 study in Neuron found that when 11 participants were played pink noise while they slept, their slow-wave sleep increased, and the results of declarative memory (facts and events) tests improved.
There is also the potential to use other senses to boost memory recall. Cellini and Mednick report that smells, such as lavender, can also enhance slow-wave sleep. Research from 2005 states that all 31 healthy participants taking part in a sleep study reported “higher vigor the morning after lavender exposure,” confirming the increased slow-wave sleep recordings taken. When associated with particular memories or behaviors, odors can also be used to stimulate learning.
The advantage of acoustic and olfactory stimulation is that they can easily be adapted for home use. Using such portable equipment is a benefit because it can be used at any time, even “during daytime naps, making this easier to study and providing more opportunities for therapeutic intervention,” note Malkani and Zee.”
A 2018 study took participants out of the lab using wearable technology that was able to produce auditory stimulation during sleep at home. The 90 middle-aged participants, using the Dreem headband, increased slow-wave sleep and improved cognition.
“Future development of neurostimulation systems for therapeutic applications is promising for age-related cognitive disorders as well as sleep disorders.,” says Malkani and Zee.
Such technology is likely to benefit each of us at some stage in our lives.
Jeremy Sutton provides training to help you Survive and Thrive and is a writer, researcher, ultra-marathoner, while heading up Explore the Limits.
He was awarded his PhD in Performance Psychology in 2019, and continues to explore the psychological, physiological, and philosophical factors of optimized and extreme performance. He has a BSc in Cognitive Science and an MA in Philosophy.
You can find more of his work in Elemental, The Startup, and Explore the Limits.



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