Ron White memory expert and USA Memory Champion discusses how sleep affects memory:

Here is the scenario, you are going into a mental tournament against some of the smartest men and women you know and you can’t sleep the night before! This was not an imaginary scenario for me…it is exactly what occurred for me the night before the 2010 USA Memory Championship. I was wound up so much that at 6am I still hadn’t had 1 minute of sleep and I would be competing in 2.5 hours in a memory tournament! Needless to say, at this point I almost had given up! At 6am, my girlfriend called me and calmed me down and then sent me to bed to GO TO SLEEP! I did just that and 70 minutes later I awoke to enter the toughest mental tournament I had faced up to that point.

Fortunately, I was able to pull off a win – however, my scores in the initial challenges weren’t up to par but still good enough for me to advance to the ‘playoff’ round where I was able to muster some mental energy for the final few hours needed to bring home the trophy.

Recently, I spoke at a conference in Denver with world renowned sleep expert Dr. James Maas. I was fascinated to listen to his talk and how sleep affects performance and memory. He was approached by an Olympic hopeful Sarah Hughes who was training for figure skating. He suggested to her that she not get up so early to train and instead get 8 hours sleep. At first she was skeptical, but then gave it a try. Not only did her skating improve…she won the GOLD MEDAL!!!

Check out his book here: Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep but Are too Tired to Ask

Sleep really can have a big impact on memory. In his book, Sleep For Success, Dr. Maas says that a person who is sleep deprived their memory will operate at 19% less efficient in regards to memory. A person with no sleep is operating at 50% less memory ability! As someone who teaches memory training for a living I take this as very valuable information!

The final 2 hours of sleep from 6-8 hours are really crucial for memories to be laid down as permanent residents in your brain. Dr. Maas says that during this time period in REM sleep your brain replays the memories from the day over and over again so they become permanent in your memory. So look at it this way, if you learn a lot and study hard today and then don’t get that final two hours of sleep the work you did yesterday will not be remembered as much today if you didn’t get 8 hours sleep.

This is really fascinating for me and it is also a little comforting to know that taking time to REST will actually make you more productive in the long run.

Here is a video I filmed on this topic:

So my suggestion to you to get more sleep and improve your memory is:

1. Get on a set sleeping schedule
2. Avoid alcohol before sleep
3. Avoid sleep medication as much as possible
4. Stay stress free (okay maybe not possible but reduce stress by crossing things off your things to do list and resolving conflicts)
5. When drifting off to sleep do your best to focus on a blank screen. I imagine myself floating through space and I push all other thoughts away…observing them but not entertaining them….