Does good quality sleep affect memory reactivation?

Deep learning. Mindfulness
New research by Northwestern University is the first to document the effect reactivating memory during sleep has on face-name learning. Photo credit Getty Images Stock

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The ability to put a name with a face is strengthened by how well you sleep, according to a new Northwestern University study that looks at reactivating memory.

Twenty-four people tried to memorize 80 names and faces, and then took a nap. When their EEG showed they had reached deep sleep, researched then replayed the names softly on a speaker. When participants woke up, they were retested on recognizing the faces and recalling the name that went with each face.

“It’s a new and exciting finding about sleep, because it tells us that the way information is reactivated during sleep to improve memory storage is linked with high-quality sleep,” said lead author Nathan Whitmore, a Ph.D. candidate in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Northwestern.

According to research team, those who had uninterrupted sleep remembered on average 1.5 more names.

Meanwhile, subjects with sleep disruption found the memory reactivation didn't help, and even hurt.

“We already know that some sleep disorders like apnea can impair memory,” Whitmore. said in a statement “Our research suggests a potential explanation for this — frequent sleep interruptions at night might be degrading memory.”

The paper’s senior author, Ken Paller, professor of psychology and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, said a follow-up is looking at if there are benefits for disruptive sleep, like reducing unwanted memories.

“This new line of research will let us address many interesting questions — like whether sleep disruption is always harmful or whether it could be used to weaken unwanted memories,” Paller said in a statement. “At any rate, we are increasingly finding good reasons to value high-quality sleep.”