Getting proper sleep has been proven to have ample health benefits like lowering the risk of obesity and improving your concentration. Now researchers report that sleep may also help people to learn continuously throughout their lifetime.
The study, which was led by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, got published in the journal eLife. In the study, scientists used computational models capable of simulating different brain states, such as sleep and awake, to determine how sleep consolidates newly encoded memories and prevents damage to old memories.
“The brain is very busy when we sleep, repeating what we have learned during the day. Sleep helps reorganise memories and presents them in the most efficient way. Our findings suggest that memories are dynamic, not static. In other words, memories, even old memories, are not final. Sleep constantly updates them,” lead author of the study and professor of medicine at UC San Diego, Maksim Bazhenov said.
“We predict that during the sleep cycle, both old and new memories are spontaneously replayed, which prevents forgetting and increases recall performance. The memory replay during sleep plays a protective role against forgetting by allowing the same populations of neurons to store multiple interfering memories. “We learn many new things on a daily basis and those memories compete with old memories. To accommodate all memories, we need to sleep,” Bazhenov said.
Bazhenov said sleep consolidates all our memories to allow recollection of both.
“When you play tennis, you have certain muscle memory. If you then learn how to play golf, you have to learn how to move the same muscles in a different way. Sleep makes sure that learning golf does not erase how to play tennis and makes it possible for different memories to coexist in the brain,” said Bazhenov.