Sleep and Memory: How Are They Related?

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Have you ever stayed up all night cramming for a test only to show up to class groggy and struggling to remember everything you reviewed? When you sleep, your brain takes time to process the day’s information. So, a good night’s rest is the best way for your brain to retain the needed information.

Here’s the science behind sleep and memory and how to get your best rest to help memories stick.

How Does Sleep Affect Memory?

Your working memory is a system used to store and process information, but it’s limited. It’s a temporary storage space for information between short and long-term memory systems.

It also contains resources needed to process information like:

  • voice understanding
  • reasoning
  • learning

When you’re sleep-deprived, working memory is negatively affected. Your brain’s ability to recite what you learned, think logically, and gain knowledge can all decrease from lack of sleep.

How Sleep Deprivation Affects the Brain

A good night’s rest helps your brain to act at its best. When you’re sleep-deprived, you can expect your cognitive functions to fall as a result.

Studies show a sleep-deprived person can’t focus their attention as well. As a result, they can’t learn as efficiently. Also, sleep and memory processing are strongly linked. Any loss of sleep prevents new information learning.

Sleep Cycle and Memory

Typically, a healthy sleep cycle consists of different sleep stages. When you experience light non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, your body is in a transitional phase between being awake and asleep.

Studies suggest your brain works to retain all the studied information during deeper NREM sleep thanks to something called sleep spindles. These are surges of brain activity that only happen in NREM phases, not during REM sleep.

Lack of sleep may cause your learning ability to drop by as much as 40 percent. Your coping skills might also take a hit when processing difficult experiences.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

How much rest you need depends on your age. The Centers for Disease Control states the recommendations for sleep are:

  • Newborn: 14-17 hours
  • Infant: 12-16 hours
  • Toddler: 11-14 hours
  • Preschool: 10-13 hours
  • School-age: 9-12 hours
  • Teen: 8-10 hours
  • Adults younger than 64 years: 7-9 hours
  • Adults older than 64 years: 7-8 hours

Your sleep needs are the highest at birth but decrease as you age.

Tips for High-Quality Sleep

Sleep is vital to your physical and mental health. But, many still struggle with getting high-quality rest.
Here are a few tips to help maximize your sleep hygiene.

Create an ideal sleep space

Your bedroom should be a place of comfort and relaxation. The best ways to get it there are:

  • Sleeping on a high-performance mattress and pillow. Rather soft or firm, find a comfortable mattress and pillows offering proper support to your spine.
  • Choose comfy bedding. Search for soft bedding that allows you to maintain a cozy temperature all night.
  • Minimize light. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask to prevent light from disrupting your circadian rhythm.
  • Drown-out noise. Make outside noises less noticable by turning on a fan or white-noise machine or using earplugs or headphones. 
  • Keep the bedroom cool. Your bedroom should be a cool but comfortable temperature. 

Stick to a sleep schedule

Prioritize sleep quality by creating a strict sleep schedule that includes:

  • a fixed wake-up time
  • a morning routine
  • enough time for sleep 
  • napping with caution

It might take your body time to adjust to a sleep schedule. But changing it an hour or so a night is a great way to adjust.

Establish a pre-bed routine

Humans are creatures of habit. So, following a pre-bed routine can help train your brain to fall asleep when needed.

Some tips for a great pre-bed routine include:

  • Read, stretch, or go thru relaxation exercises 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Dim the lights so your body can start producing melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep.
  • Turn off mobile devices, computers, and television to help your brain wind down.

Develop healthy daytime habits

You can even support a good night’s sleep with how you spend your day. Some steps to keep in mind are:

  • Get out in the light. Sunlight or light therapy boxes wake up the internal clock and help keep your circadian cycle in rhythm. 
  • Keep the body moving. Exercising every day promotes healthy sleep. But it’s best to avoid intense exercise close to bedtime since it may be harder to calm your mind after a workout.
  • Restrict caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine stimulates your brain and can lead to long-term sleep deprivation. Also, alcohol negatively affects your sleep quality.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking and second-hand smoke can lead to sleeping difficulty.
  • Use the bed for sleep and sex. Try to avoid other activities like working in bed. As a result, the mind will associate your bed with bedtime.


Sleep is an important component of memory building. Slacking on your sleep can lead to worse cognitive function and information retention.

Developing good sleep hygiene is a great way to keep your brain sharp. Sticking to a sleep schedule and establishing a calming before-bed routine can help improve your sleep and, as a result, your memory.

Source List

Capello, K. (2020). The impact of sleep on learning and memory.

How Much Sleep Do I Need? (2017).

Patel AK, et al. (2021). Physiology, Sleep Stages.

Peng Z, et al. (2020). Effects of sleep deprivation on the working memory-related N2-P3 components of the event-related potential waveform.