Smart while sleeping - This is how sleep shapes our memory

Sleep is vital for us. But not only muscles and skin regenerate during sleep, our memory is strengthened and experiences are processed. Here you can find out why sleeping makes us smart and how you can optimally organize your memory sleep.

Table of Contents

      1. The ability to learn
      2. Sleep & Memory
      3. Top 3 - What disrupts learning while you sleep?
      4. Top 3 - What promotes learning while you sleep?
      5. Conclusion

      The ability to learn

      Our brain never rests, but constantly processes information from the outer and inner world. One of the most fascinating properties of our brain is its ability to learn. An important basis for this is the so-called plasticity of the brain, i.e. the ability of nerve cells and entire brain areas to change their properties depending on their use and activation. Our sleep plays a central role in this function.

      Sleep & Memory

      Explained briefly: During sleep, especially deep sleep, the memory content that we have absorbed and learned during the day is consolidated. As a rule, all of the day's experiences are initially temporarily stored in what is known as the hippocampus. In the evening we can therefore remember the many details of the day very well. If these memories are not consolidated, which means stored more deeply, they fall apart and are forgotten. They only become permanent memories when they are transferred to our long-term memory, which is mainly located in the cerebral cortex. And it is precisely this transmission from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex that takes place during deep sleep.

      It is interesting that the content learned changes qualitatively during transmission, as if it were going through a kind of filter. Usually only the essentials remain, for example memories with emotional meaning or new rules and structures.

      Top 3 - What disturbs learning during sleep?

      Anything that disrupts deep sleep can also negatively affect memory consolidation.

      #1 alcohol in the evening

      Alcohol, especially in large quantities, can have a negative impact on the quality of sleep. This is largely due to the breakdown products that arise after consumption. Alcohol therefore has a negative effect on sleep and thus also on memory consolidation.

      #2 sleeping pills

      Many sleep aids disrupt our sleep in an unnatural way and can suppress the naturally occurring delta waves, which are instrumental in the transmission and storage of memories, during deep sleep. Accordingly, sleeping pills should be avoided unless prescribed by a doctor.

      #3 Little sleep

      Many studies now show that lack of sleep can have a negative impact on learning and memory processes. The important transmission and processing processes take place especially in deep sleep, which is disturbed by acute and permanent lack of sleep.

      Top 3 - What promotes learning while sleeping?

      #1 repetition in the evening

      The learning success through consolidation is particularly strong if what is to be learned is consciously brought to mind again in the evening before going to sleep.

      #2 Physical activity

      Physical activity (especially moderate endurance training) has a positive effect on brain functions and structures.During activity, the production of growth hormones is stimulated (HGH, BDNF), which are important for the functioning of nerve cells and memory processes. Regular physical activity also has a positive effect on sleep and thus contributes to optimal conditions for information processing at night. You can find more about the effects of exercise on sleep here.

      #3 Vitamin and protein rich diet

      When new neural connections form to further shape our memory, energy and building blocks are needed at the molecular level. Amino acids (proteins) form the building blocks required. Vitamins and minerals also have a beneficial effect on numerous physiological and anabolic effects in this process. A diet rich in protein and vitamins can therefore be helpful for the learning process, especially in the evening.


      • The brain's ability to learn is based on its ability to change nerve cells and brain areas depending on their use and activation.
      • Especially in deep sleep, memory content is processed, filtered and transferred to long-term memory. This process is called consolidation.
      • Alcohol consumption (especially in the evening), taking sleeping pills and lack of sleep disturb deep sleep and have a negative effect on consolidation and learning processes.
      • Repetition of the learning content before going to bed, physical activity and a diet rich in vitamins and proteins promote learning while you sleep.

      Greetings and see you soon!


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