The study indicated that sleep improves both old and new versions of memory, which helps in using memories adaptively. The brain updates the memory with new information when you recall something, creating and storing different versions of the same event. It does not overwrite or replace the old version of the experience.
“In this way, sleep is allowing us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences,” explained Scott Cairney, lead researcher of the study.
The researchers investigated on how sleep affects memory by conducting an experiment on participants who were randomly divided into two groups. They were tasked to study the placement of words that were displayed on a computer screen. Testing the experiment, the groups were shown each of the words at the center of the screen and were afterwards asked to specify where they thought they belonged. After the first test, the first group slept for an hour and a half, while the other group remained awake. The two groups then repeated the experiment.
The results showed that the two groups remembered the location at the second test closer to the original location compared to what they recalled at the first test. This indicated that the memory was updated and new memories had been formed. Moreover, results revealed that the group who had sleep prior to the second test remembered the locations closer in distance to both the original, and the locations retrieved in the first test, compared to the group who stayed awake. This suggests that sleep improved the new and old versions of the memory.
“Our study reveals that sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories,” said corresponding author Gareth Gaskell.
However, the researchers noted that even if this process enables memories to adapt to changes, it can also incorporate wrong information into the memory storage. The brain's memory will draw on both accurate and inaccurate versions of the same experience, which causes confusions in how people recall past events.
If you have been having some issues with your sleep or you want to improve the quality of sleep, it is advisable to adapt to some lifestyle changes. Here are some tips on how to have a good sleep.
Read more information on how the brain works at Brain.news.