Our earlier article, "Sleep and Self Care," considered evidence that a proper night’s sleep is fundamental to emotional, psychological, physical, and mental well-being. In this post I want to continue the discussion by suggesting that sleep is also fundamental to good memory.
At AATBS we do a lot of work helping to prepare psychology students pass their licensure exam known as the EPPP, and we also provide curriculum for other licensures in the mental health realm. But all the licensure prep curriculum in the world will only be of limited value for someone who is habitually sleep deprived.
For many of us, this is counterintuitive. When we think about exam preparation, often the first thing that comes to mind is cramming and, therefore, less sleep. The problem with skipping sleep to study is not simply that it’s unhealthy, it’s also self-defeating. This is because it is during sleep that your brain is able to consolidate memories, including memories of the material you’ve studied that day.
It’s when a person is asleep that their brain processes what they learned that day, converting material in their short-term memory into long-term memories so they can recall those memories in the future. This becomes clear when we consider the three things that need to happen for the formation of long-term memories.
The first ingredient that goes into long-term memory is acquisition. Acquisition is the simply process of learning something you didn’t know before.
The second ingredient that goes into long-term memory is consolidation. This is the process whereby a memory becomes stable in the brain.
The third ingredient that goes into long-term memory is recall. This refers to the brain’s ability to access the memory later on in time.
The first and third of the above processes (acquisition and recall) takes place when you are awake. Interestingly, however, the third (consolidation) happens while you’re sleeping. This was proved in 2009 when American and French researchers found that brain events called sharp wave ripples were responsible for consolidating memory. The ripples transferred information from the hippocampus to the neocortex, the seat of long-term memory. The interesting thing is that they found that sharp wave ripples occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep.
Let’s make this practical for you, as you prepare for your psychology licensure exam. If during the day you are studying material that you need to remember for the EPPP, the time that you spend asleep is not wasted time. Similarly, the time that you spend implementing measures to ensure a good night’s sleep (many of which we will consider in a follow-up post), is not wasted time but an essential part of your EPPP preparations.
Bottom line: if you are a psychology student preparing for the EPPP, you cannot afford to skip out on sleep.
Sleep and Self Care