Sleep and memory: a crucial connection

I’d like to welcome Kevin Nelson as a guest contributor.  He’s a young writer with an interest in psychology, memory, and learning, and this is his first article for RMI. You can reach Kevin using the links at the end of this article.



Recent studies confirm the importance of sleep in the development of brain functions. The impact of a good night’s sleep is well known by many. However, despite having this knowledge, many students go through periods of sleep deprivation as indicated by a tally undertaken by the National Sleep Foundation. These students end up lacking the much-needed rest at the end of the day which impairs their performance for the following day. A good night’s rest is critical for the retention of information. It is also necessary for memory, concentration, and control of impulses. So as a student, it is important that you get enough sleep.

So what connection exists between sleep and memory? Sleep not only allows us to rest after a hard day at school or work, it also allows the brain to handle information and strengthen our comprehension of lessons learned. To really understand the relationship between memory and sleep, one needs to understand the following aspects: why we sleep, sleep and education, and memory and sleep levels.

Why do we sleep?

Students need to learn about the sleeping process. It is only through comprehension of the sleep cycle that they can appreciate how it affects their studies and general well-being. Researchers note that sleep contains some restorative abilities to both the body and mind. As previously discussed, many have the perception that sleep is only for rest after a hard day’s work. However, further studies show that a good night’s rest is a meaningful use of one’s time. Such a period allows students to strengthen and connect the basis of their memory.

sleepThe activities of the human brain can be compared to that of a computer. During sleep, the brain takes the time to arrange and sort out information. Some of the data stored may be for short-term or long-term purposes. In a nutshell, sleep is a very time-specific period for education and learning.

Sleep and education

As previously mentioned, the sleeping process involves a lot of storage and sorting of relevant information. Resting after an exhausting day is crucial to academic achievement. Similarly, it plays a huge role in the enhancement of cognitive skills. Such skills are essential to the overall performance of students in school and academia.

sleepThe brain of a school child is constantly developing and maturing to that of an adult. Therefore, a growing child needs enough rest to assist and support the process. Healthy sleep patterns can, therefore, contribute to better attention levels in class translating to better grades, and better overall mental health. The child can also enjoy improved concentration and excellent problem-solving skills all as a result of getting a good night’s sleep. New information learned during the day is stored properly and put to use in a more efficient manner.

Over time, students who experience sleep deprivation tend to develop poor learning habits. Primary results to lack of a good night’s rest in children include:

  • Drop in school performance
  • Impaired learning
  • Behavioural and emotional complications

Memory levels and stages of sleep

The current education system engages different types of formed memory in a student. Researchers and scientists are looking at whether there is a relationship existing between the integration of various categories of memories and varying levels of sleep.

To better grasp the relationships here, we’ll first define the different types of memory that come into play during learning:

Declarative memory – This is a fact-based memory. It means that it is the storage of data and information based on what we know, i.e. the capital city of a country or the president of a nation.

Procedural Memory – This memory level helps in remembering how to carry out a particular task, i.e. how to drive a car or ride a bicycle. The information is consolidated to the point where we can easily listen to music while driving, or hold a conversation with a passenger. All the various things that formerly gave us so much trouble are now almost automatic.

With that in mind, the following are some types of sleep that contribute to the effectiveness of the above faculties:

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) – This is a stage of sleep that consists constant and frequent dreaming. REM sleep plays a massive role in the grasping of learned information and material.

Slow wave sleep (SWS) – this type of sleep involves profound and restorative rest. On declarative memory, it aids in the integration, consolidation, and processing of newly learned information.

Important points to note:

REM sleep also plays an essential role in the integration of procedural memory. For example, motor learning pays close reference to the sleeping patterns whether light or cumbersome.

Various visual learning mechanisms depend on the timing and amount of deep REM and Slow-wave-sleep.

According to most researchers, the integration of the various categories of memory requires some few stages of sleep. Furthermore, students who experience sleep deprivation face a harder time in their education. Adequate rest is fundamental for a student’s learning and retention of information acquired during the day!


Kevin Nelson started his career as a research analyst and has changed his sphere of activity to writing services and content marketing. Currently, Kevin works as a part-time writer at the OnlineWritingClass. Apart from writing, he spends a lot of time reading psychology and management literature, searching for the keystones of motivation ideas. Feel free to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin.


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