Researchers from Northwestern University have discovered the key to improving recall of names and faces – and it’s simpler than you would think. The answer is deep restful sleep.

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

Nathan Whitmore, a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program, is the lead author of a new paper, finding improved memory storage and reactivation in association with healthy sleep hygiene and high-quality sleep intervals.

This experiment involved 24 participants between the ages of 18 and 31 years old. They were instructed to memorize 80 names and faces (40 from a Latin American history class, and the other 40 from a Japanese history class). Next, participants napped during the afternoon while their brain activity was assessed by electroencephalography (EEG). While participants were in the slow-wave stage in the sleep cycle, the experimenters played 20 of the 80 names over soft music. Participants’ recall of the 80 name-face pairs was subsequently tested after they awoke. The researchers found that the name-face pairs reinforced during sleep were associated with better face recognition and name recall (by 1-2 additional names). But this was found mainly in the setting of relatively undisturbed sleep, having longer periods of slow-wave sleep.

The findings of this paper provide further support for previous findings on the associations between sleep quality and memory accuracy. College and university students are reminded throughout their educational journey to not sacrifice sleep in order to succeed and get ahead. Studies have shown that those who suffer from sleep-related medical conditions often suffer in their memory retrieval ability as well.

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This post was written by Linda H