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Poor Sleep Hinders Memory In Stressful Times

Poor Sleep Hinders Memory In Stressful Times

While scientists have known that sleep facilitates long-term memory, a new study finds that sleep appears to help with information retrieval during times of stress.

Researchers from Uppsala University, Sweden, investigated the role of sleep duration for memory transfer, and how long-term memories formed by sleep remain accessible after acute cognitive stress.

They discovered sleep not only helps to form long-term memory but it also ensures access to memories during times of cognitive stress.

The study, by sleep researchers Drs. Jonathan Cedernaes and Christian Benedict, appears in the journal SLEEP.

The novel experiment included a learning session in the evening during which 15 participants learned 15 card pair locations on a computer screen. Following this, one group of experimental session subjects slept for half a night (four hour) while another group slept for a full night (eight hour).

The next morning subjects were asked to recall as many card pair locations as possible.

Perhaps as a surprise, researchers discovered half a night of sleep (four hour) was as powerful as a full night of sleep (eight hour) to form long-term memories for the learned card pair locations.

However, the study also revealed that stress had an impact on the participants’ ability to recall these memories.

This was demonstrated in another part of study in which the men were acutely stressed for 30 minutes in the morning after a half or full night of sleep (for example by having to recall a newly learnt list of words while exposed to noise). Afterwards, researchers discovered this stress reduced participants ability to recall these card pair locations by around 10 percent.

In contrast, no such stress-induced impairment was seen when the same men were allowed to sleep for a full night.

“On the basis of our study findings, we have two important take home messages:¬†First, even though losing half a night of sleep may not impair memory functions under baseline conditions, the addition of acute cognitive stress may be enough to lead to significant impairments, which can possibly be detrimental in real-world scenarios.

“Second, interventions such as delaying school start times and greater use of flexible work schedules, that increase available snooze time for those who are on habitual short sleep, may improve their academic and occupational performance by ensuring optimal access to memories under stressful conditions,” said¬†Cedernaes.

“An important next step will be to investigate how chronic sleep loss and or more chronic stress may interact to impair the ability to retrieve memories that are consolidated during sleep,” he said.

Source: Uppsala University/EurekAlert

Poor Sleep Hinders Memory In Stressful Times

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Poor Sleep Hinders Memory In Stressful Times. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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