December 2, 2023

A bad night’s sleep can make anyone a bit forgetful, but neuroscientists have now discovered a new link between the amount of sleep we get a night, and memory retention.

In new research, set to be presented at Neuroscience 2023, a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in Washington D.C., scientists found that a chronic lack of sleep in young mice leads to poor performance when learning new tasks.

The research, led by Nirinjini Naidoo at the University of Pennsylvania, also found that BiP, BDNF, p-CREB—memory molecules—were affected by a chronic lack of sleep. This triggered a stress response in the brain. The mice’s cells also declined in health.

Both of these findings suggest that problems in cell management within the body tend to lead to memory decline.

Sleepless night
A stock photo show a woman suffering from a sleepless night. New research has found that a lack of sleep can hinder your memory.
Tero Vesalainen/Getty

More research set to be presented at Neuroscience 2023 also found a link between sleep and memory.

Horst Obenhaus, of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, found a new link by studying the sleep of cuttlefish.

Scientists already knew that cuttlefish have a complex brain structure capable of memory, just like humans. They have also been observed displaying rapid eye movement during sleep.

To test the link between their memory and sleep, scientists exposed the fish to social interactions before they slept.

The skin patterns of the fish then began changing. This rapid change suggested to scientists that the fish were replaying and remembering the recent social interactions during sleep.

More research into this is needed, but the findings could prove very useful in studying human brains and how sleep and memory interlink.

According to Robert Greene, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and moderator of an upcoming press conference at the meeting, the reason for sleep in humans remains a major mystery to neuroscience.

“Recent neuroscience research is beginning to uncover some of these secrets, including understanding the price of sleep loss on brain function,” he said in a release detailing the findings. “Further studies show the surprisingly gender-specific gateway to sleep in females and female resilience to sleep loss when sleep is curtailed. Finally, pioneering research on dream sleep may take a step forward with cephalopods, like cuttlefish, that wear their dreams on their skin, potentially providing a unique window into their dream content.”

Despite it being an enigma, understanding sleep is integral to understanding the root causes for sleep disorders.

Approximately 50 to 70 million Americans have long term, or ongoing, sleep disorders, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. As scientists learn more about the effects of sleep loss on everyday life—for example, memory deficiency, and mental health problems—it is becoming more and more important to identify how to help those with sleep disorders.

Although neuroscientists still have many questions, new findings on sleep are being made all the time. A recent study published in the journal Neuron found that just one night without sleep could be enough to rewire our brains for days.

“We expect that neural rewiring—provoked by a specific stimulus like brief sleep loss—can initiate a cascade of neuronal changes that outlast the immediate phase,” Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, an associate professor of neurobiology at Northwestern and corresponding author of the paper, told Newsweek, as the study was published.

“For example, dopamine increase during brief loss can enhance neuroplasticity, and a subset of those new connections between neurons could persist. At the level of effects on mood, clinical studies show that interventions to circadian rhythms (or chronotherapies) can substantially enhance mood for a matter of days to weeks.”