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How Sleep Affects Your Memory

If you didn't already know, sleep and the quality of sleep dramatically affects our memory, especially in the deeper stages of sleep in the early hours of the morning.

By Lucy Powell

Your memory allows you to relive important and meaningful times in your life.

It also provides a wealth of knowledge that is retained and allows you to be able to retrieve the information at a moment’s notice.

In order to have a memory three functions occur, such as acquisition, consolidation and recall.

During sleep your brain processes the information and experiences you had throughout the day.

If you are sleep deprived, your brain is not able to properly absorb and process the day’s events and causes you to have a foggy memory.

Sleep has a role in the consolidation of memory and is affected by the quality and quantity of sleep you experience.

a woman unable to sleep at night staring at a clock


As mentioned earlier there are three functions that occur in order for you to have a memory.

  • Acquisition – The experience of learning something new and the introduction of the information into the brain.
  • Consolidation – The memory becomes stable in the brain.
  • Recall – The ability to access the information after it has been stored.

These important functions create a memory. If you are sleep deprived, your brain is held back from the chance to achieve all three functions due to the fact that consolidation happens only during sleep.

Experiencing sleep deprivation can cause you to not remember important information that is essential to your daily life. For example, you may forget that your children are getting out of school early one day and since you don’t have any memory of it, you forget to pick your children up, causing a phone call from the school.

"... lack of sleep is associated with all kinds of negative health consequences including increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease"

Dr Rangan Chattergee

Types of Memory

  • Declarative Memory – This memory is based on fact. It allows you to remember detailed information such as a second language and topics you study at school or work.
  • Procedural Memory – This type of memory is related on how to do something. For example, it allows you to recall how to play an instrument, fix a car and ride a bicycle.

Imagine how many days have gone by that you learned how to do something important, like a new task at your job, and the very next day you couldn’t remember doing it.

A good example of the effects sleep has on memory is when a person begins a new job.

Starting a new job is one of life’s major stresses. It causes anxiety and stress to reach high levels as you embark on your new experience.

Almost every job requires training and you spend most of your day focusing on learning the computer programs that need to be used in order to successfully do your new job.

You may be very focused during training, taking notes and following every instruction given to you. Later that evening you realize you are feeling anxious and it causes you to not be able to fall asleep, hours go by and you suddenly wake up to your alarm clock buzzing and realize you only slept for two hours.

This means your brain did not have enough time to go through the consolidation process that is needed to retain memory.

You arrive at your second day of work and guess what? You can barely remember what you learned the day before, other than the notes you took, you are lost and confused, which causes more stress and the cycle continues.

man looking at phone during bedtime
Don't be like this guy. Switch your phone off and put it in another room.

Sleep Better

While it may be impossible to shake off nerves and stress due to life events, there are some things you can do in order to get a better night sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Take a relaxing bath with essential oils.
  • Journal and jot down all of your emotions before you go to bed.
  • Go to bed at the same time every evening.
  • Consume your last meal or snack of the day at least two hours prior to bed time.
  • Listen to calming music or read a book to help your mind relax.
Writing in a journal or making notes might help the mind to relax

"It's during deep sleep when we dream that our memory function improvements are built up over the long term"

These helpful tips will help you relieve your worries by writing them down and help calm you so that your mind is able to relax and fall asleep.

If you find that you are experiencing chronic sleep problems or sleep deprivation it can be caused by something more serious such as a sleep disorder.

black coffee next to a book
This is definitely decaffeinated coffee...

Once you practice calming techniques and follow the helpful tips above, but still are not achieving a good night sleep, you should try keeping a sleep diary for about two weeks.

Note your sleeping habits, physical symptoms such as snoring and gasping for air during sleep and how many times you wake up at night.

Bring this journal to your doctor and discuss your difficulty with your memory. The doctor will guide you on a path to recovery and you will return to living a happy, healthy life.

When conducting sleep tests, there are a lot of factors that need to be controlled.  Since they are performed in-office, it’s often difficult to account for other factors that differ from an individual’s normal sleep environment.

The two things that are brought up most commonly are temperature and mattress choice.


A big impact on the quality someone’s sleep is the temperature.  The climate in our sleep area is very controlled and can be adjusted, which allows sleepers to find the perfect temperature for their sleep – which isn’t always the case in a home environment.  Especially since many people sleep with a partner, they end up sleeping in a temperature that doesn’t suit their preferences at home.  Thus when at the sleep study, we ask them to adjust the temperature to their normal sleeping temperature environment, not their preferred temperature, as a means of controlling for this variable.

Mattress (and other bedding)

We invest in some high quality mattresses for people to use, which often is better than the mattress that people have at home (if Saatva mattress reviews are any indication, we have one of the best).

Though we are glad that people enjoy the sleeping experience in our office, if our mattress is substantially better than the one they have at home, they may sleep much more soundly, and not give us an accurate analysis of their typical sleep quality.

On the other hand, many people have ended up purchasing a new mattress because they get to feel the benefits of good sleep for a night.


When coming for just one night in our clinic, there are often too many variables to account for to get a truly perfect analysis of their sleep issues.  However, we note that the people that often end up in our clinic have very egregious sleep problems which won’t simply go away due to a better mattress or slightly altered temperatures.

If you are looking to just slightly improve your sleep, temperature and mattress (along with pillows and bedding) are good things to adjust to see if your experience improves.  However if you have a serious condition, like severe snoring or sleep apnea, then it may be best to let a professional diagnose you and determine the best course of action.

Watch this video below for more information on how to engineer better sleep.

Dieters around the world will be shocked to learn that their lack of sleep or issues with insomnia may be the cause of them gaining weight, or prevent them from losing those last 10 pounds.

According to studies that were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, loss of sleep may have a direct effect on how hungry a person is the following day.

Sleep and Hormones

The hormones ghrelin and leptin both influence appetite and are released during sleep. If you are lacking hours of sleep or have poor quality sleep the leptin levels will plunge and your brain will not be able to receive the message saying that your stomach is full, causing your appetite to increase during the day. In addition to leptin levels plunging, the ghrelin levels increase and stimulate your appetite even further, causing you to overeat.

For someone who is adhering to their healthy diet may find it extremely difficult not to eat larger servings or even cheat on their diet with a sugary snack.

A common fix to frequent hunger pains tends to be a cup of coffee filled with cream and sugar. These types of temporary fixes can cause weight gain or prevent you from losing more weight.

Sleeping Habits

If you find that you are following all of the rules of your diet, eating healthy and exercising, but still can’t seem to shake off those last 10 to 5 pounds, you may want to focus on your sleeping habits.

Are you eating right before bed? Even though it might be a healthy snack, eating before bed can cause your sleep to be interrupted. For example, you may enjoy a fresh orange right before bed. This healthy snack is approved for your diet and is low in calories and high in vitamins. However, it is also an acidic food that can cause you to wake up several times during the night due to discomfort from experiencing heartburn or acid reflux.

The frequent waking up effects your quality and quantity of sleep and causes your leptin and ghrelin hormones to make you feel hungry.

When you awake in the morning, instead of adhering to your healthy breakfast you have scheduled, you will probably want to consume more food, or grab a donut to satisfy your hunger pains.

Improve Your Sleeping Habits

You can do a few things that will help you improve your sleep.

In this case you will want to begin with eating your last snack, meal and drink of the day at least two hours prior to your bedtime.

In addition, you will want to avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine before bed as well. Drinking water prior to going to bed may seem harmless but it will cause you to frequently wake up during the night and interrupt your sleep many times.

It is wise to eat a healthy diet and indulge in your favorite foods in moderation.

However, if you find yourself frequently needing to eat unhealthy snacks, you may want to focus on your sleep habits and improving them in order to reach and maintain your goal weight.

Narcolepsy, a neurological disorder affects the control of wakefulness and sleep. People with narcolepsy experience extreme daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime. These sleep attacks can occur at any time of the day and during any activity.

In a typical sleep cycle, the body enters the early stage of sleep that is followed by deeper sleep stage and roughly about 90 minutes the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. But people suffering from narcolepsy, REM occur almost immediately in the sleep cycle and periodically during the waking hours. It is during the REM sleep that we experience the muscle paralysis and dreams that explains the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Causes of Narcolepsy

  • Hereditary Genes – Scientists have discovered that the genes responsible for controlling the chemicals in the brain that directly affect sleep cycles can cause narcolepsy.
  • Brain Abnormalities – REM sleep can be disturbed by brain abnormalities causing symptoms to appear.
  • Autoimmune Disorder – Researchers have found that autoimmune disorders mistakenly attack the body’s tissues and cells commonly causing symptoms of narcolepsy.

Though, the causes of narcolepsy are still not identified, but research shows that genes play a major role. The genes control the chemical production in the brain that signals awake and sleep cycles. In case of faulty genes, the cycle is abrupt and it causes problems. Some experts believe narcolepsy to be the result of a deficiency of hypocretin chemical produced by the brain.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Wondering, what are the symptoms of narcolepsy? Some of them are mentioned for your reference:

  1. Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): Excessive daytime sleepiness interferes with the normal activities on a daily basis, irrespective of whether the person with narcolepsy had sufficient sleep at night. People suffering with EDS report lack of energy, mental cloudiness, lack of concentration, memory lapses, extreme exhaustion and depressed mood.
  2. Sleep paralysis: This symptom is one of the scariest to experience. Here the person witness temporary inability to speak or move while waking up or falling asleep. These episodes generally last for a few seconds to minutes. Right after the end of the episode, the person recovers with their full capacity to speak and move around.
  3. Cataplexy: Herein, the person experiences a sudden loss of muscle tone that results in weakness and loss of voluntary muscle control. This might result in body collapse to slurred speech to total depending on the muscles involved. In most cases it is triggered by intense emotions such as anger, laughter and surprise.
  4. Hypnagogic Hallucinations – This is when a person has vivid visions immediately after waking up or during the very beginning stages of sleep

Diagnosing Narcolepsy

Risks involved

Narcolepsy is a lifestyle threatening sleep disorder as it affects your daily activities and make you feel disabled by affecting the relationship at work or home. The laziness, antagonism and disinterest that mark the symptoms are often not understood by many which mar the personal and professional relationships. This is not all, the risk of accidents is quite high due to the abrupt and variable nature. In most cases, people have been reported to have fallen asleep while driving.

So, if you or your loved one is suffering from Narcolepsy, it is best to seek immediate medical assistance and visit to sleep clinic for the best help.

Those who experience the symptoms of narcolepsy are encouraged to see their doctor. Sufferers should discuss symptoms with their doctor and be open about any family history of narcolepsy to help pin point the cause.

There is not a cure known at this time. However, therapy, lifestyle changes and medication can work together to improve narcolepsy symptoms and quality of life.

People frequently talk about spending restless nights because they cannot sleep well. But what most of us don’t realize is that frequent inability to sleep is a warning bell.

It marks the onset of sleep disorder, a medical condition that affects the sleep patterns of an individual.

Sleep disorders can be grouped into three categories: lack of sleep or insomnia, excessive sleep and disturbed sleep. Read below to know more about each of them.

Lack of Sleep

Insomnia is an inability to fall into the state of sleep. This is a common problem experienced by most people on an occasional basis. When it does happen, most people feel exhausted or tired and it disrupts daily routine.

Insomnia may result from diet, emotional difficulties, stress, underlying disease, or other factors.

Individuals experiencing short term insomnia may be prescribed sleeping pills. For long term sufferers, sleeping pills may exacerbate the condition. For them, meditation or professional assistance is recommended.

Disturbed Sleep

Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep. A neurological disorder or mechanical malfunction in your windpipe may be the underlying factor. Age is another reason, because as you get older your muscle tone begins to relax, which may contribute to the collapsing of your windpipe.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where blocked air and loud snoring last for up to 60 seconds. The person may appear to be snorting or gasping for air due to the lack of oxygen. When this happens, the brain responds by tightening the muscles and opening the windpipe. Factors that contribute to sleep apnea include obesity, enlarged nostrils and narrow nasal passages.

Smoking, alcohol and sedatives may worsen this condition. Long term effects of the windpipe, closing leads to oxygen deprivation. This is the primary trigger behind decreased mental function and morning headaches. Individuals suffering from sleep apnea are at an increased risk for developing stroke and heart disease.

The other common disturbed sleep disorders are REM sleep behavior disorder, restless legs syndrome and Periodic limb movement disorder. All these need to be addressed with the help of sleep clinics or experienced medical experts.

Excessive Sleep

Narcolepsy is a medical condition whereby a person falls asleep throughout the daytime, lasting from a minute to more than thirty minutes. These sleep attacks occur uncontrollably and can occur at any time, even when the person is busy with an activity. Narcoleptics demonstrate an abnormal sleep pattern. Their entry into REM sleep is premature without entering the normal sequence of sleep. This condition is genetic and has been associated with neurological disease and or brain damage.

The other excessive sleep disorders are Cataplexy, sleep paralysis and Hynagogic hallucinations.