“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Chances are you’ve muttered this to yourself at least a couple times during your late-night study sessions or on hour 16 of an insanely long shift. As a high achiever (I mean, you are a doctor, after all), you might look at sleep as a luxury that you just can’t afford—something you’d better get used to not getting. But I’ve got great news for you, my friend. Sleep might be your memory's secret weapon.
Developing and maintaining your medical competency is vital to your success as a physician, and it turns out that a good night’s sleep plays a crucial role in sharpening your memory.
Sleep after you learn? That’s new!
If you’ve ever walked into a test after an all-night cram session, you likely learned the hard way that your peak performance occurs when you’re well rested. That’s why an early evening is suggested by nearly all your professors and mentors. But did you know there is another reason a good night’s sleep is recommended prior to an exam? It’s because the latest research shows that sleep is not only helpful, it’s essential for processing or “consolidating” new information. Locking in learning may be one of sleep’s primary biological functions.
Let us break it down for you.
Memory essentially has three major facets:
Sleep is crucial to consolidation, so how well you “sleep on” what you’ve just learned directly impacts how well you will recall the information later.
Communication within the brain
So what exactly happens during consolidation? No one really knows the specifics just yet, though neuroscientists believe it may occur as an interchange between the hippocampus and the neocortex, which are active during sleep. What we do know is that during consolidation, short-term memory is reclassified as long-term, and at that point, we “own” it. Without consolidation, new information remains unstable and hard to access.
Consolidation is complex, but experts in the field reinforce your med school professor’s suggestion of sleeping after you study and before a big exam.
Stay tuned for more information about the power of sleep in our upcoming blog post, "The Science Behind the Snooze."