In recent years, psychologists have found mounting evidence that sleep aids learning by consolidating certain kinds of memory.

In a new study, Michigan State University researchers found that individual differences in conscious and sleeping memory processes seem to be related. This suggests, according to lead researcher Dr. Kimberly Fenn, a fundamental underlying ability, “a separate form of memory, distinct from traditional memory systems.”

“There is substantial evidence that during sleep, your brain is processing information without your awareness and this ability may contribute to memory in a waking state.”

During the study of more than 250 people, Fenn and her collegues noted that people derive vastly different effects from this “sleep memory” ability. For some, memories are improved dramatically, while for others, not at all.

“You and I could go to bed at the same time and get the same amount of sleep,” Fenn said, “but while your memory may increase substantially, there may be no change in mine.”

Fenn said she believes this potential separate memory ability is not being captured by traditional intelligence tests and aptitude tests such as the SAT and ACT.

“This is the first step to investigate whether or not this potential new memory construct is related to outcomes such as classroom learning,” she said.

The study unequivocally reinforces the need for a good night’s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people are sleeping less every year, with 63 percent of Americans saying their sleep needs are not being met during the week.

“Simply improving your sleep could potentially improve your performance in the classroom,” Fenn said.

The research findings are found in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Source: Michigan State University