Each toss and turn of a restlessnight may be hampering the formation of new memories. According new researchfrom Stanford University, frequent waking during sleep hours prevents the brainfrom creating memories. Details of the study were recently published in the Proceedingsof the National Academy of Sciences.
Sleep researcher and studyco-author Asya Rolls says that as a mother of two, she can attest to havinglittle memory of her children as infants due to the loss of sleep associatedwith caring for newborns until they attain the ability to sleep consistentlythrough the night. Rolls noted, “I can remember my children as babies, but it’sa very hazy memory, based mostly on photographs and videos.” Such is the casefor many new parents who struggle to keep a balance between daily life andnightly rest.
The study found thatdisrupting the sleep of laboratory mice made it more difficult for the animalsto recognize familiar objects. Rolls said that when well-rested, the lab mice werecurious and quick to investigate objects newly placed in their cages, whileignoring older and more familiar ones, but after a restless night, thesleep-deprived little guys failed to recognize the new objects at all.
For the analysis, Rolls and hercolleagues introduced a light-sensitive protein, known as channelrhodopsin-2,into certain brain cells of the lab mice. The animals were then frequently, butbriefly awakened by shining a pulse of blue light on the treated cells toactivate them. Although the mice did not appear to waken, the arousals weredetected by monitoring the brain waves of the animals.
Findings showed that among micewho slept continuously, or those awakened every two minutes, memories of thenew objects added to their cages were retained. They were observed to crawl on,sniff, taste and play with the new objects significantly more than more familiarobjects. However mice awakened every minute explored older objects just asfrequently as new ones, an indication that the animals had no memory of objectspreviously encountered. Rolls pointed out that although lab mice routinely wakemore frequently than people, disrupting their sleep at one-minute intervalslikely prevented the conversion of short-term memories into long-term ones.
Although it remains unclearas to whether the findings apply to humans, previous studies have shown thatjust one night without sleep impairs a person’s driving ability almost asseverely as does being legally drunk. The dangers of sleepdeprivation are clear in terms of the safety of ones self, as well as thatof others, especially among professions ranging from truck driving, toconstruction work, to those in the field of healthcare that require workinglong hours.