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"Mem-Sleep" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists have found that sleep helps consolidate memories, fixing them in the brain so we can retrieve them later. Now, new research from the University of Notre Dame and Boston College shows that sleep also seems to reorganize memories, picking out the emotional details and reconfiguring the memories to help you produce new and creative ideas.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Remember to Sleep -- Sleep to Remember.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: snoring) When you're asleep, your brain is very active. Looking at research out of Notre Dame and Boston College, sleepy time is when your brain, among other things, is analyzing, organizing, and reconfiguring memories, so you can retrieve them later. The project showed regions of the brain most active during sleep included emotion and memory consolidation. They found that your brain is giving each memory a once-over, and filing it in such a way as to make the memory stronger.

The team believes that as your brain processes memories, it hangs on to the most emotional parts and gets rid of some of the less useful fine detail. The researchers say a good night's sleep (eight hours in most cases) can also enhance creativity, because your brain has distilled the memories down to the most salient and useful information. It's sort of like when you de-frag a computer, it can accomplish new tasks more efficiently.

It takes time for the brain to accomplish this. You may think you can cheat the sandman but without enough sleep, your brain may not have finished its work. The researchers say even a relatively small amount of sleep deprivation could profoundly affect your cognitive abilities.

So sleep well tonight -- think better tomorrow. (Sound effect: yarning) I think I need a power nap.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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