The Detriments On Memory Due To Sleeplessness


Never cram the night before an exam. As a student or someone who’s already graduated and now in the workforce, you’ve probably heard your teachers or professors tell you this over and over before. Everyone has heard this and understands it, yet people still can’t help but put off tasks and study late into the night before important deadlines. Unfortunately, they just don’t realize how important sleep actually is for memory consolidation.

If we remembered every single detail of every single day, our brain would be overloaded with useless information and we might also have trouble recalling the important pieces we actually need when we need them. This is where sleep comes in. During the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) stages of the sleep cycle, the brain stores the important information and memories we actually need and does away with the extra details (Suni, 2020). 

With all that, the brain needs time to process all the information and put it in its proper place. A night of low quality, negligible sleep before an important exam can be detrimental for your test performance the next day. The brain needs time, but since you didn’t give it enough of that, you’ll be hard pressed to recall information quickly, if at all, the moment when you actually need it. 

This is just to say about people who decide to cram once in a while when exams come around, but what about those that consistently have fewer hours of sleep due to sleep disorders? Obviously, everyone would like to have restful nights of sleep and wake up feeling good, but that can’t compare to the negative effects your low quality sleep will have on your academic and work performance. On a day to day level, if you just have bad sleeping habits, you wouldn’t be able to pay attention in class well if you’re struggling to keep your eyes open and prevent yourself from falling into the dreamland. But for those with insomnia, who consistently struggle with getting any sleep at all, and those with narcolepsy, who feel sleepy during the day due to daytime sleeping, there is a greater risk for impairments in memory functioning. Sleep apnea, which causes trouble with breathing while asleep, to take it a step further, may even promote memory loss. In turn, a symptom that occurs as a result of sleep apnea is also daytime sleepiness, leading with its own consequences (Pacheco, 2020). 

If you’re struggling with retaining information you’ve learned in class or during a late night study session, consider evaluating your sleep’s quality. It could be just due to bad sleeping habits, but there’s also a chance that a sleep disorder is interfering with your night’s rest. On top of other factors like poor study habits or stress, the quality of sleep may well be one of the biggest factors holding you back from being more successful in your academic career. People are sometimes reluctant to get help for disorders that aren’t physically life threatening, but you must consider the long term effects this can have on your goals and dreams for the future in your career. For those without any sleeping disorders who are still finding it difficult to balance sleep and all other daytime activities like school, exercise, work, and also hobbies, some attention should be given and efforts should at least be made in improving your sleeping habits. No pill or medication will make you feel as healthy or improve your memory as much as a simple good night’s sleep.

 

Resources

Pacheco, D. (2020, November 13). Memory & sleep: How deprivation affects the brain. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/memory-and-sleep

Suni, E. (2020, August 14). Stages of sleep. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/stages-of-sleep

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