Memory forms as a result of the constant modification and addition of connections, known as synapses, between brain cells. Researchers have already established links between sleep and improved memory function. But a new study published in the journal Science demonstrates evidence for underlying molecular and physical mechanism responsible for the link.
The study was conducted by scientists at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at the New York University Langone Medical Centre, lead by Dr. Wen-Biao Gan, a professor of neuroscience and physiology.
“Here we’ve shown how sleep helps neurons form very specific connections on dendritic branches that may facilitate long-term memory. We also show how different types of learning form synapses on different branches of the same neurons, suggesting that learning causes very specific structural changes in the brain,” says Dr. Gan.
The study was conducted by training 15 mice to run forwards and backwards on top of a rotating rod. Researchers allowed some of the mice to do the test after seven hours of sleep, while the rest of the mice had to perform the test on no sleep. Researchers analyzed the brains of the mice to find that the brains of the sleeping mice formed a significantly greater number of links between brain cells, indicating that they were learning more.
Researchers also found that deep or slow-wave sleep was essential to memory formation in the mice. Public health advocates have expressed concerns over the lack of importance placed on getting a good night’s rest daily. Concerns include the risks of developing serious health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer among many.
It has also been proven in prior studies that lack of sleep can cause a build-up of proteins in the eye that have been linked to an increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
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