We wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, get ready for school or work and go on our way. Then, we meet the people we’re used to spending our time with, some are colleagues, some are friends, some are neither.
So how is it that we know so intuitively who’s our friend and who isn’t? How to act according to each type of relationship? Or even how to get to school or work every day? And even how to brush our teeth? Well, that’s our memory.
There are different types of memory that help us make sense of the world around us. First, there's short-term memory, which is like a temporary storage space for things we're thinking about right now, like what we decided to order from the menu. Then there's long-term memory, where important stuff gets stored, like childhood memories or learned behavioral norms. Within long-term memory, there's explicit memory, which is like factual knowledge we consciously remember, such as important dates (historical or anniversaries) or your favorite color. On the other side, there's implicit memory, which is more about skills and habits we pick up without even realizing, such as riding a bike, swiping our mobile or typing on a keyboard.
The process of sorting and filing different pieces of information into the right place is called memory consolidation. More than one part of the brain takes part in this process, each responsible for other related contexts. For example the hippocampus plays a crucial role in social memory, while the long term memory takes its place in the temporal lobe of the brain. Therefore the whole chain should be aligned and properly functioning in order to enable this magic to occur.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the next thing I’m about to write is that due to the delicate connection between brain’s health and memory function - sleep has an important effect on proper memory consolidation. It was shown through research that brain cells (neurons) participating in REM sleep can contribute to the process of memory consolidation, especially social memory (managed by the hippocampus), as well as short-to-long term memory re-filing, which happens mostly during deep sleep stages. Also not surprisingly, sleep deprivation is a leading cause of memory pathologies and neurological clinical manifestations related to all sorts of memory, from loss of memory, through even false memories and delusions.
It seems like the more research is done regarding sleep and its health related outcomes, it appears to be a wise investment for both short and long term. While some sleep deprivation symptoms are perfectly manageable using coffee for example, some are actually a big deal. Memory loss clinical manifestations vary widely, respectively to the damaged part and its function in the chain of memory consolidation. Short term memory loss is known to be much easier to manage (we all love Dory from “Finding Nemo”, don’t we?), yet implicit memory damages can be a huge burden over the caretakers, as they influence the person’s independence, behavior and even personality.
Wishing you a good night’s sleep
And a healthy, worth remembering days