Sleep and Memory

By Dr. Mark Toomey, Medical Director, The Raj Ayurvedic Spa

It is said in Charaka, one of the ancient texts of Maharishi Ayurveda, that "proper sleep brings about happiness and longevity in human beings in the same way that real knowledge brings about siddhis in yogis."

In my practice at The Raj, it is common to see many people who are concerned or unhappy that as they get older, their memory is failing them.

Memory is an important function for human beings. It allows us to function successfully both as a tool for everyday life, for work and for personal abilities. Even such little things as remembering where I put the car keys, can be a source of frustration or bliss.

The most up-to-date research is suggesting that as we snooze away at night, our brain is actually performing highly-specific tasks that process what we have experienced during the day. Like a good secretary, it sorts our most recently-formed memories, copies them and makes them stable before filing them away for later retrieval.

Why is this important? Well, try to be your brain for a minute and think of all the information you process in one day, both consciously and subconsciously. Scary, isn't it?

A good night's sleep allows for us to retrieve specific information, without having it mixed up or diluted with all the other millions of bits of information. Sleep allows our brains to be specific in the face of overwhelming diversity.

Certain memories can be pruned and others reinforced. Those that we need can have specific channels opened to them for easy recall. It's even possible that, while we sleep, there is a censor deciding on what's important or not. Recent evidence points to the brain being "very wise" as to what it actually wants to remember and what is not worth keeping.

This instrument is so refined as to process emotional tags that we have to, say, certain images, and can either strengthen them or untie the knots that may bind us to them.

It will analyze our vast storehouse of memories, finding out which are related or not and letting others fade forever. What's even more remarkable is that sleep may even help us find meaning in the knowledge we acquire that day.

It is not just obvious but scientifically proven that a poor night's sleep or, even worse, deliberate shortening of sleep results in dramatically affecting our cognitive processes and ability to have a good memory.

So if you want a good memory, then sleep.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.