Although we are often told by our parents and doctors that getting a good night’s sleep is critically important, it is often tempting to stay up late for one reason or another. Perhaps the last episode from Netflix’s newest hit series ended on the most unsatisfying cliffhanger, and you are now too invested to just go to bed. Or maybe you have a final tomorrow that you still haven’t finished studying for and pulling an all-nighter would be just what you need to finish. But losing those hours of sleep may not be worth it as researchers in this Nature study further learn just how detrimental sleep deprivation can be for our memory.

While we are awake, our neurons are constantly firing in a rhythmic pattern called sharp-wave ripples (SWRs), which help to build our memory. When these ripples are interrupted, our ability to remember is also disrupted. Surprisingly, these SWRs also occur during deep sleep as well, helping to reinforce the memories we’ve acquired during the day as we rest. When researchers looked at SWRs of sleep-deprived mice, they discovered that while the number of SWRs didn’t change, the SWRs were weaker and less organized than for mice that were allowed to sleep for as much as they’d like. Even after the sleep-deprived mice were allowed to sleep again, their SWRs never quite reached the strength and consistency found in mice that had normal sleep.

The results in this study further demonstrate how critical sleep is for memory and suggest that long term sleep deprivation could have a lasting effect on memory. It is important to note that the study was conducted only on mice so some results may not translate as well into humans. However, the findings in this study are critical for improving our understanding of our brain and could provide the foundational knowledge needed to develop novel treatments for memory loss in the future.

This study was led by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, under the guidance of corresponding author Kamran Diba.

Managing Correspondent: Jenny Kim

Press Article: Sleep deprivation disrupts memory: here’s why (Nature)

Original Article: Sleep loss diminishes hippocampal reactivation and replay (Nature)

Image Credit: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

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