Could Memory Be Compromised at Night Because of New Information?
Could Memory Be Compromised at Night Because of New
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The old joke about new information entering your brain at the expense of older and possibly less important information is turning out to actually be true. There was a new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience examined the role and the importance of sleep in terms of strengthening your brain and maintaining the accuracy of your memory. The study also touches on
why exactly the brain would shut down sensory of information during extended periods off deep sleep. During the study, they found that when a new odor is introduced to an animal while it slept, it would compromise its ability to distinguish between new and old smells.
When a person is awake and they are introduced to a new smell, your olfactory system will begin to let you draw conclusions to previous notions of the smell, whether good or bad. When you are asleep and are introduced to a new odor, your olfactory system will turn inward and will become less responsive to your nose and whatever other odors there may already be. Instead, what happens is the new odor can actually work to improve the accuracy and strength of the memory.
During this study, Dylan Bames and Donald Wilson, PhD,
from the City University of New York,
introduced rats to new smells, as well as previously introduced smells when the animal was in its resting state. In order to ensure that the odors being introduced to the animals were controlled to keep the study information as exact as possible, the researchers responsible for the study would send electronic stimulation to the brain circuits that are directly responsible for odor processing. They did this in place of introducing the new odors themselves.
The new exposure to the odors would play a large role in determining what was a new odor and what was one they had already gained
access to in the past. The studies that were conducted previously showed the relationship between sleep replay and the strength of the memory.
To prepare the animals for the study, before they would sleep and be introduced to the new odors, the researchers taught the animals to
find a correlation between a specific odor and foot shock
when they were awake. When the researchers found that the shock was affecting the animals – which they determined by fear – they would then recreate the scenario again when they were in their slow-wave sleep, or SWS.
After training the animals to show the researchers what they were hoping to find in the study, they continued with the research and saw that when animals were given a replay of learned odor experience during the state of SWS showed a higher tolerance for the memory than those that were introduced to the odor when they were awake. On the other hand, when animals were introduced to a new odor when they were asleep found it more difficult to distinguish between what odor was previously known and what was new to them.
When a person sleeps, it doesn’t mean that their mind and their brain have shut down. On the contrary, when a person is sleeping, their brain can – in some cases – actually begin to work more on the things you would never think about when wide awake. There are many important tasks that the brain will take care of when you are sleeping including maintenance that is essential to keep the brain functioning properly. One of the most important roles the brain has when you are asleep is moving stuff from your short term memory to your long term memory.
In the past, there has been numerous studies performed that replaying new material just introduced to your brain could be an important part in maintaining. In these previous studies, they were unable to conclude whether this
was because the new information was introduced during SWS. SWS is a form of deep sleep in which your brain’s sensory systems are less responsive to retaining new information.
What Does This Mean?
The findings of this study could help researchers find out a lot about the way the brain works. It could also play a large role in helping the brain to forget traumatic memories that have been known to corrupt the brain. Jan Bom has a PhD and is also a neuroscientist who studies sleep at the University of Tobingen said that “The question of whether cueing memories during sleep, and specifically during slow-wave sleep, can be used to modify specific memories is currently a hot topic due to the potential for such information to lead us to new ways to weaken the unwanted memories commonly found in psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders.”
About the Author
Hobson Lopes is a 2012 graduate of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Conn. He is a professional writer who will be releasing a cookbook in January 2014 called Men Cook Too. He is also the owner of The First Pitch and can be followed on Twitter.