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A New Study Shows Sleep’s Importance to Your Brain Power

Author:NeuroGym Team

Issues With Relational Memory? More Sleep Can Help

Ever forgotten the name of a coworker you hadn’t seen in a while, or who you’d just met a short time ago? Do you forget to put your keys in the bowl by the door, or do you keep forgetting they’re there when you do remember? Have you ever needed to use a maps app to find a place you’ve already been to more than once?

All of these situations are signs of problems with relational memory, one of the most important things our brains do for us! Relational memory involves making a connection between two or more things in your brain. “Your blonde coworker is named Marsha, and her office is two doors down from yours” is an example of something handled by relational memory.

In this example, you’re relating the appearance of your coworker to her name, and then relating the concept of your coworker, Marsha, to the location of her office. Sounds simple enough, right?

Maybe not. While relational memory isn’t as glamorous or exciting as other aspects of brain health, it’s a lot more important and complicated than it sounds. Consider how many relations you have to remember every day. Remembering where things are supposed to go, where people live or can be found, which names match to which faces, which foods taste good together, which clothes look good together, which streets have potholes, and where to go to buy different things are all examples of relational memory—and these are just scratching the surface!

You probably aren’t thinking about these memories every time you use them. When you get in your car to go to your favorite store, you don’t necessarily ponder where the store is or map out how to get there—you remember it automatically! Our brains store thousands if not millions of these “relations” in the form of connections in our intricate neural networks, so that they’re on hand when we need them.

But how do these networks form, and how are they maintained? And if you struggle with relational memory—especially if the memory is newer—does this mean that there’s something wrong with your brain?

Probably not! A new study shows how relational memory is reinforced during sleep—so if you aren’t getting enough, as most American adults aren’t, your relational memory will suffer. In this article, we’re going to go over what the study shows, how it demonstrates the amazing power of your brain, and how you can make sure you get enough sleep to keep your relational memory in top shape!

Relational memory

A Fascinating New Study Shows the Effect of Sleep On Relational Memory

Two researchers at the University of California, San Diego noticed that there seemed to be a link between sleep and relational memory. Knowing that brain activity doesn’t stop during sleep, they theorized that the brain must do something to reinforce our relational memory while we’re sleeping, and they guessed that the deep sleep state was the key!

The researchers, Timothy Tadros and Maxim Bazhenov, wanted to examine how the neural networks of our brains that govern relational memory deal with sleep. It’s common for studies like this to hook volunteers up to an EEG reader to measure brain waves during sleep, but Tadros and Bazhenov did something completely different.

In order to examine the way brain networks form, and how brain networks associated with relational memory are affected by sleep, the researchers developed a genius computer model of the brain’s relational memory neural networks and put it through a simulation of both the awake state and the deep sleep state. What they found was fascinating!

The researchers discovered that while preliminary brain connections are formed during the day when you learn about a relationship between two things, these connections are strengthened during deep sleep, when the brain forms additional connections.

Let’s use the example of your coworker Marsha again. The first day you met Marsha, you learned what she looked like, her name, and where her office is located.

If we were to apply the results of this computer study, your brain would have learned that your blonde coworker is named Marsha while you were awake. You would also have learned that Marsha’s office is two doors down from yours. In other words, your brain has connected A to B and B to C.

But what if you have a few nights of poor sleep? Now, you know you have a blonde coworker named Marsha, and you know someone’s office is two doors down from yours, but you’ve lost that connection—at least until you go down the hall and check!

Relational memory

An Apple News article on the study explains that “the indirect links occur because the neurons related to A, B, and C all fire in close order, called sleep replay, which creates a connection between all three neurons.”

Our brains really are incredible! Even when we’re sleeping, they’re working to make sure that we can function during waking hours by replaying, reinforcing, and reinvigorating connections we formed during the day that will be useful in the future.

The human brain holds around 2.5 petabytes of information. In other words, about the same amount as can be held by a million iPhones! Most of this is actually not “encoded” in a neuron or neural structure but stored as a connection between neurons or structures. That’s why sleep is so important—it allows our brains to reform and reinforce the connections that let it perform all of its amazing functions, and let it store so much information!

Want to learn more about the incredible power of your brain, and what the latest in neuroscience says about how you can learn to harness your brain power? Join us at this weekend’s live virtual Brain-A-Thon training session! Book NOW!

4 Top Tips for Brain-Boosting Sleep!

Your brain has incredible power, and all of it is at your disposal if you want to learn how to use it! However, if you want to make the most of your incredible brain power, you need to take care of your brain by giving it enough time to do its job. Getting enough sleep will not only boost your relational memory, but also your mood and overall cognition.

Your brain operates on a cycle called your circadian rhythm, which helps direct when you wake up, when you go to sleep, and what time of day your body “thinks” it is. In the modern day, phone and computer screens feed blue light into our eyes at all times of day and night, interrupting our circadian rhythms and making it harder to fall asleep.

Luckily, one of the most incredible things about your brain is that if you know how it works, you can make it work for you! Here are our 4 top tips for hacking your circadian rhythm and getting better sleep every night.

Relational memory

  1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. For most of human evolution, our ancestors went to sleep and woke up with the sun. Having a bedtime will help your brain anticipate when the time to sleep is coming, so it can start getting ready.
  2. Avoid blue light from screens before bed as much as possible because it gets parsed by your brain as daylight. Instead of looking at your phone, read a physical book, or, if you must use a screen, use a red light filter app. Red light doesn’t promote wakefulness like blue light does.
  3. Wind down before sleep and try not to eat or engage in intense physical activity at least two hours before bed. If you’re hungry before bed, try some bone broth or herbal tea instead of a full snack, and if you’re antsy, try some bedtime yoga!
  4. Get out of bed as soon as you wake up in the morning! This will teach your brain that once you’re awake, it’s time to start the day, reducing tiredness and making you feel more alert. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know all about how our brains form habits, and laying in bed for longer periods after waking up is a bad one.

Final Words

Your brain is an incredible machine. It performs some of the most advanced calculations ever performed on Earth just for you, to allow you to safely navigate your surroundings, work toward your goals, and do all the things you like to do! But your brain needs care too, and getting enough sleep is part of that.

Now that we’ve gotten to the end of the article, you’ve gotten some tips about how to improve the quality of your sleep. Hopefully, you can start getting better rest in order to boost your memory and cognition in your day to day life!

Want to learn even more about what the incredible power of your brain can do for you? Join us at this weekend’s live virtual Brain-A-Thon, where experts in the field of neuroscience will teach you how to harness your incredible brain power. Don’t wait. Book your spot TODAY!

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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