Sleep Isn't The Only Way To Consolidate New Information; How To Form Memories In 10 Minutes

Sleep
Relaxing in a quiet environment for 10 minutes is enough to consolidate spatial memories, such as the geographical layout of your hometown, new study suggests. Pixabay

Although the mechanisms of sleep are still unclear, it has been well-established that a good night's sleep is essential in fostering physical and mental health resilience.  But contrary to popular belief, eight hours of shut-eye is not necessary to form memories, according to new research published in the Hippocampus.

Until now, many believed the only way to consolidate new memories into long-term storage was through sleep. But researchers are finding this process can also occur when people are awake and reasonably relaxed. This suggests spending just 10 minutes in a quiet room without stimulation — no TV or cell phone — could boost memory.

"A lot of people think the brain is a muscle that needs to be continually stimulated, but perhaps that’s not the best way," said researcher Michaela Dewar of Heriot-Watt University, according to New Scientist. He added that this may explain why cramming right before a test is an ineffective strategy, or some people can stare at a book for a long period of time and forget everything they have read in a few hours. A timeout could give the brain time to process this new information.

A previous study conducted by Dewar and her colleagues in 2012 found that people who had a brief wakeful rest after hearing a story remembered 10 percent more of it 7 days later compared to those who played a brain stimulating game afterward. In the new study, however, Dewar and her colleagues show that spatial memories, such as the geographical layout of your hometown or the interior of a friend's house, can also be consolidated during a 10-minute timeout.

The research team recruited 40 people to learn a virtual route before either resting or engaging in an unrelated perceptual task for 10 minutes. They found that participants in the wakeful rest condition performed better in a delayed cognitive map test, which required them to point to landmarks from a range of locations. 

"As long as you're reasonably relaxed, you might still be experiencing some of the memory-consolidation processes that sleep would normally do," said Gareth Gaskell at the University of York in the UK, according to New Scientist.

Researchers conclude findings could have implications for those who suffer from insomnia and other conditions that affect memory capacities, such as Alzheimer’s disease and amnesia.

Source: Craig M, Dewar M, Harris M, Sala S, Wolbers T. Wakeful Rest Promotes The Integration Of Spatial Memories Into Active Cognitive Maps. Hippocampus. 2015.

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