This was a great week for me. I was in California, and was an honored guest on the Adam Carolla podcast! It was a ton of fun working with Bald Brian, Adam, and Gina. We talked about everything you can imagine and then some.
This week I read two studies that I think we can all learn a little something from. Both were reported in Medical News Today looking at the effects of sleep on something called working memory.
Working memory is defined as the short-term memory that a person uses on a daily basis, while going about their day, driving places, getting things, etc. As we get older, no big surprise here, working memory begins to decline. Researchers noticed that two separate aspects that could be affecting this decline, and making it worse, depressed mood, and you guessed it, SLEEP.
The study is in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society and it looked at both the accuracy of memory and if these factors work together or separately to have their effects on memory.
According to the article:
For the first study, the investigators recruited 110 college students, who completed questionnaires about their sleep quality and depressed mood. Then, the research team assessed how these measures related to the participants’ working memory performance.
In the second study, the researchers extended their assessment to people of different ages, recruiting 31 participants from the local community, with an age range between 21 and 77 years. This way they could also see if age was a factor.
The two studies revealed, first, that a person’s age is inversely related to qualitative working memory, meaning that, the more we age, the less accurate our working memory becomes. I think we all knew that one (we laughingly call it “having a Senior moment”).
At the same time, the researchers found that experiencing depressed moods AND poor sleep quality is linked to worse quantitative working memory. Meaning, the less we sleep and the more often we experience negative moods, the worse our working memory.
In the second set of research looking more specifically at insomnia, researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam looked at brain activity differences in insomniacs and good sleepers (insomniacs are also often Dolphins- if you don’t know what your chronotype is, check out www.chronoquiz.com).
This was a fascinating experiment with a protocol I have never seen before. They asked 2 groups of people, those with insomnia and those without, to remember an embarrassing situation from many years ago (an old stressful memory) and then an embarrassing situation from a week ago (a new stressful memory). Here was the interesting part: for normal people these memories lit up in different parts of the brain when doing MRI scans (showing that there are two different areas one for long term memories and one for short term memories). For the insomnia group, it was all located in the same place in the brain. So, what does that mean?
Researchers think that this might show us that people who suffer from insomnia are not processing these stressful memories and they stay “stuck” in their current memory, causing more stress.
In the second part of the experiment, the subjects were asked to sing a song, while wearing headphones, with no music. This is very hard and when people listen back to themselves singing, it can be VERY embarrassing. It’s like singing in the shower, but with no radio and people hear you! When the same groups listened to themselves, the insomnia group felt far more distress than the normal sleepers listening to themselves.
Once again, sleep deprivation causes significant distress.
Want to learn more? Check out my 5 steps for better sleep:
Here is another interview from this week that you may enjoy.
Dr. Breus Talks Common Sleep Questions – KTLA