Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sleep and Do Better

(HealthDay News) -- Get enough sleep -- whatever that means for you -- and you're likely to ace that test, think more creatively, have better long-term memory and preserve important memories.

That's the bottom line behind a spate of recent studies.

But why sleep has those effects and how that information can be used to your advantage are questions still under study, said Dr. Robert Stickgold, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

"The sleeping brain is not stupid," said Jessica Payne, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who has researched the effect of sleep on memory. "It's smart, and it's making sophisticated decisions about which memories are important and should be held onto."

Yet why sleep is so crucial for memories remains a big mystery, Payne and Stickgold agreed.

"It turns out we are not like TiVo," Stickgold said, comparing humans to the video recording device. "TiVo is good at recording one station while it shows you another. We can't do that. We can't simultaneously take in information and process it."

Rather, he said, sleep helps in the whole information-processing part of the picture. "It might be that sleep is an amount of time to give the brain a chance to go offline and shift into a different psychological mode that's evolved to perform certain types of memory processing," Stickgold said. Read more...

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