Sleep and Memory

memoryAn interesting story published in the New York Times suggests that the reason we are less able to remember things as we get older is that we sleep less well.

The article is based on a report posted online on Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The report suggests that as the brain ages, changes take place that interfere with sleep quality, which in turn reduces the brain’s capacity to store information in long term memory.

The implication of the research is that increasing slow wave sleep might reverse some of that decline.

Slow wave sleep is the deepest sleep. When aroused from it people have the hardest time waking themselves up. And after sleep deprivation it usually increases dramatically to make up for the loss.

Some things known to increase slow-wave sleep include raising your body’s temperature (taking a hot bath or going into a hot tub), eating lots of carbohydrates, and intense prolonged exercise.

Many medications commonly taken for insomnia (benzodiazepines like lorazepam (Ativan), temazepam (Restoril), etcetera) actually reduce slow wave sleep. One medication that increases slow wave sleep is gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) (Xyrem) which is a tightly regulated substance that is marketed for the treatment of narcolepsy.