Sleep helps the brain update memories

Research Summary
Hayley Roper
Research Assistant

When we experience new information, our brains process and store the information as memories that we can recall later. Because our brains have a limited capacity, not all information will be stored for the long haul. And sleep plays a critical role in determining which memories stick around.  A recent study published in Cortex, provides more evidence of sleep's involvement in memory. When we recall a memory, that memory is updated with the information present during remembering, creating a new version of the original memory.  The act of remembering can overwrite the original memory, distorting it forever. Or the act of remembering can strengthen the original memory while also storing a new version that combines the original memory with a memory of remembering the original memory.

Researchers found that sleep not only improved individuals’ ability to remember information, but also helped combine new information present during remembering.  In this study, sleep appears to help the brain store multiple versions of the same memory rather than overwrite the original memory with the new memory.

For more details on this study, see New insights into why sleep is good for our memory from Science Daily.