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Broken sleep affects memory

26th July 2011

Getting broken sleep affects people's ability to form memories, according to a recent US study.


By studying the effects of broken sleep in genetically engineered mice, the researchers concluded that broken sleep caused people to forget things more easily.

The researchers wrote that sleep continuity was one of the main factors affected in various pathological conditions, including Alzheimer's disease.

Neil Stanley, a former chairman of the British Sleep Society, who was not involved in the study, conjectured that people accumulated memories as they went through their daily activities, and that sleep helped people to store the important bits of information.

He said he believed that anything that interfered with the process of deep sleep would hamper people's ability to remember things.

The mice used in the study were genetically engineered to have light-sensitive brain cells, using a technique known as optogenetics.

Merely by sending particles of light to the genetically engineered brain cells of the mice, the researchers were able to cause the mice to switch between disturbed and deep sleep at will, without physically disturbing the mice or actually causing them to wake.

The mice were given memory tests after they woke, and the researchers found that mice with disturbed sleep seemed not to remember things from one day to the next.

The researchers put the mice into a box with two objects, one of which the mice had seen before.

Mice that had been allowed to fall into deep sleep noticed the old object and ignored it, examining the new object instead.

But mice that had not been allowed to fall into deep sleep seemed to treat both objects as equally unfamiliar.

The researchers wrote that, regardless of the total amount of sleep or sleep intensity, a minimal unit of uninterrupted sleep was crucial for memory consolidation.

People who are addicted to alcohol are affected by broken sleep, as well as those who are affected by sleep apnoea.

Stanley said that people with sleep apnoea often had trouble fixing things in memory, and that people with Alzheimer's also reported disturbed sleep.

He said that, however, there was no way to say whether Alzheimer's caused disturbed sleep or disturbed sleep caused Alzheimer's.

Miranda Watson, director of communications at the British Lung Foundation, who was also not involved in the study, said that the study would come as no surprise to people who suffered from sleep apnoea, who regularly stopped breathing during the night, resulting in extreme day time tiredness and memory loss.


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Article Information

Title: Broken sleep affects memory
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 19220
Date Added: 26th Jul 2011


BBC News

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