The National Institutes of Health reports approximately 50 to 70 million Americans experience some form of sleep disorder, enough to “significantly diminish” their health, safety, slower reactions and inability to focus. The interruption of sleep could come in the form of sleep apnea, inability to get to sleep, too much sleep, or poor quality of sleep. These interruptions in sleep pattern could result in more accidents, additional medical problems, more use of medications, memory lapses, loss of concentration and ability to focus, and lack of coordination and reaction time.

Not getting enough sleep can have an effect on how you learn, remember, and could create other physical and mental problems. Sleep is the time when the brain performs its most important job, catching up on the day’s events and placing them into memory. Without this time to allow the brain to perform this task your ability to recall is diminished.

There are many people who will tell you they only need 4-5 hours of sleep a night. They are just kidding themselves, or they are superhuman. The brain will not function at its optimum level without getting a break. Just as our bodies are not able to continue without rest, your brain has to do the same thing.  The actual effect of inadequate rest on our bodies, and our minds, has been documented in numerous studies, and the conclusion is the same – for optimal memorizing, learning, focusing and cognitive function the brain must have a good 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

“When people are put through chronic sleep deprivation, there is an initial response where they say, ‘OK, this is not optimal but I’ll manage.’ But after a few days of this, things are much worse than they realize,” says Hans P.A. Van Dongen, PhD, lead researcher and assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “And the most worrisome part of this is these people don’t realize how sleep-deprived they really are,”

According to Dr. Van Dongen, people don’t actually realize how tired they are. “They have slower reaction time, weakened memory, and other thinking impairments.” The good news is, you can actually catch up and reinvigorate – with a few days of good sleep that includes no distractions and interruptions.

Research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience sheds new light on this problem. Scientists were able to map out how different parts of the brain react to different sleep patters – waking, sleeping and during periods of sleep deprivation. They were able to view the behavior of over 200 genes in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagery) scanner in seven separate areas of the brain by identifying which genes were turned of, or turned on, and where they were in the brain. Their conclusion was that sleep deprivation affects the frontal lobe – the area of the brain thought to control our higher cognitive reasoning, emotions and memorizing and retention of memory.

The study found a “novel set” of genes associated with sleep deprivation that included genes related to stress response, irritability, how to remember anything, concentration and coordination. These symptoms were found to be common among health care workers, military personnel and people who worked long hours and swing shifts – those deprived of the proper amount of sleep. Sleep deprivation is also linked to the development of depression, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Being able to track this brain activity will advance the ability to treat many diseases that can be traced back to lack of adequate sleep and overcoming their effects. This would include the ability to improve your memory.



About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion




Memory Zine Study of Sleep Deprivation Identifies Genes That Hinder Memory:

Functional neuroimaging insights into how sleep and sleep

deprivation affect memory and cognition by Michael W.L. Chee and Lisa Y.M. Chuah –

WebMd: Sleep Deprivation Leads To Trouble Fast –

WebMd: The Toll of Sleep Loss in America –

National Sleep Foundation –