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August 4, 2008

How Snoozing Makes You Smarter

Scientific American has posted an article online about the importance of sleep to mental acuity. As the grad school semester winds down and exams are plentiful, I can recognize the need to put a priority on getting quality sleep so that I am sharp not only for my studying, but also my tests.

The article examines not only what our minds do when we sleep, but the effects of studies where people get (and don't get) the needed amount of sleep, driving home the need for quality sleep every night.

The latest research suggests that while we are peacefully asleep our brain is busily processing the day’s information. It combs through recently formed memories, stabilizing, copying and filing them, so that they will be more useful the next day. A night of sleep can make memories resistant to interference from other information and allow us to recall them for use more effectively the next morning. And sleep not only strengthens memories, it also lets the brain sift through newly formed memories, possibly even identifying what is worth keeping and selectively maintaining or enhancing these aspects of a memory. When a picture contains both emotional and unemotional elements, sleep can save the important emotional parts and let the less relevant background drift away. It can analyze collections of memories to discover relations among them or identify the gist of a memory while the unnecessary details fade—perhaps even helping us find the meaning in what we have learned.

Posted by linda at August 4, 2008 8:42 PM

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