Everyone knows that sleep is important. In fact, humans spend about 26 years of their lives asleep. Without the eight to eight and a half hours of required hours of sleep per night, a person can begin to suffer serious problems that can even affect his or her memory. According to new research, brief periods of sleep deprivation can actually lead to deficits in memory formation.
The same research, though, also found a potential way to beat it.
A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reports that University of Pennsylvania researchers found a particular set of cells in a small region of the brain to be responsible for the memory problems occurring after sleep deprivation. The scientists were able to prevent mice from having memory deficits by selectively increasing levels of a signaling molecule in these cells.
First, they gave the mice the necessary boost, and then trained them in a spatial memory task. The researchers put the mice in a box with three different objects that were in distinct locations. The mice then had the specific part of the brain stimulated at the two times when research showed memory consolidation to occur.
The mice were then divided into two groups — one that slept undisturbed, and another that had their cages tapped on, and their bedding rearranged over a five hour period of time. One full day after the mice’s initial training, they were re-tested, but one of the objects had moved locations.
“If the mice had learned and remembered the location of the objects during their training, then they would realize, okay, this is the object that has moved, and they’ll spend more time exploring that particular object,” explained Robbert Havekes, the study’s lead author. “If they didn’t remember well, they would explore all the objects in a random fashion.”
Just as they’d hoped for, the researchers found that the sleep-deprived mice explored the moved object, just as the control group had. What’s more, sleep-deprived mice who hadn’t had the special part of their brains boosted explored all the objects at random.
The team would like next to further study this part of the brain, and see how getting enough sleep might affect memory.
“Thinking about people who do shift work or doctors who work long hours,” said Havekes, “if we can tackle the cognitive problems that result from sleep loss, that would be a great thing.”