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Sleep on it


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Sleep is widely recognised as vital to healthy functioning of your brain. In this column we have reported studies showing that lack of sleep impairs mood, promotes negative thoughts, and accelerates brain ageing. We also know that sleep improves memory. Yet while these effects are well documented the question remains as to exactly how sleep is having these positive effects on your brain. Is for instance, the relative “quietness” of the brain during sleep allowing memories to be consolidated or could it be that laying down memory puts us to sleep? A new study has suggested an answer.

The new study was done on fruit flies who have dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons that are established as consolidating memory in the insects. This study was the first ever to show that when these DPM neurons are activated the flies go to sleep but when they were deactivated the flies stayed awake, “buzzing” so to speak.

It seems that these memory consolidating neurons inhibit wakefulness as they begin transferring short term memory into long term memory. The DPM neurons are found in a part of the fruit fly brain that is equivalent to our hippocampus and in that part of the fruit fly (the mushroom body) there also neurons responsible for learning and memory that keep the fly awake. What appears to happen is that when it is time to consolidate learning into long-term memory then the DPM neurons suppress the others so that short-term memory can be laid down into long term.

So think twice before you leave all of your study until the last minute so that you have to pull an “all-nighter”…your lack of sleep will actually be working against your ability to recall all those last minute crammed facts.



 

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.