Losing half a night of sleep makes memories less accessible in stressful situations

It is well known that during sleep newly learned information is transferred from short-term to long-term memory stores in humans. In the study that is now being published in the scientific journal SLEEP, sleep researchers Jonathan Cedernaes and Christian Benedict, sought to investigate the role of nocturnal sleep duration for this memory transfer, and how long-term memories formed by sleep remain accessible after acute cognitive stress.

Following a learning session in the evening during which 15 participants learned 15 card pair locations on a computer screen, in one experimental session subjects slept for half a night (4-hr) and in the other for a full night (8-hr). The next morning subjects were asked to recall as many card pair locations as possible. What the researchers found was that half a night of sleep (4-hr) was as powerful as a full night of sleep (8-hr) 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. 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). Following short sleep this stress exposure reduced their 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”, says Jonathan Cedernaes, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University.

“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”, says Jonathan Cedernaes.

The sleep-deprived brain can mistake friends for foes

Time to get more zzZzzs.

A new UC Berkeley study shows that lack of sufficient sleep hinders our ability to accurately read facial expressions.

In the experiment, subjects could not distinguish between threatening and friendly faces after being awake for 24 hours. As a consequence, study participants interpreted more faces, even the friendly or neutral ones, as threatening when they were sleep-deprived.

“Consider the implications for students pulling all-nighters, emergency-room medical staff, military fighters in war zones and police officers on graveyard shifts,” said study lead author Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski.

“Insufficient sleep removes the rose tint to our emotional world, causing an overestimation of threat…” said co-author Matthew Walker.

Read more about the study

عن حذيفة بن اليمان رضي الله عنه قال: “كان النبيُّ صلَّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ إذا أخذ مضجعَه من الليلِ، وضع يدَه تحت خدِّه، ثم يقول : ( اللهم باسمك أموتُ وأحيا ) . وإذا استيقظَ قال : ( الحمدُ لله الذي أحيانا بعد ما أماتنا وإليه النشورُ ) .” صحيح البخاري

Narrated Hudhaifa: When the Prophet (ﷺ) went to bed at night, he would put his hand under his cheek and then say, “Allahumma bismika amutu wa ahya,” and when he got up, he would say, “Al-Hamdu lil-lahi al-ladhi ahyana ba'da ma amatana, wa ilaihi an-nushur.” Sahih al-Bukhari 6314 In-book reference : Book 80, Hadith 11
USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 8, Book 75, Hadith 326