Research Reveals How Sleep Helps “Hit The ‘Save Button’ On Your Memories”

(CBS News) — New research shows another reason why you should be getting a good night’s sleep: it could help save your memory. A study  published recently in the journal Cell Press found that as we age, the connection between sleep and memory formation begins to show signs of breaking down. Brain waves become unsynchronized, and because of that, the brain fails to keep new memories while we sleep.

“What we found is that in young, healthy adults, the deep-sleep brain waves are perfectly synchronized in time and that synchronization helps you essentially hit the ‘save button’ on your memories,” Matthew Walker, who co-authored the study, told “CBS This Morning.” “But as we get older those deep-sleep brain waves become mistimed.”

He likens this to a drummer who is one beat off the rhythm.

“So you can’t cement those memories into the brain so you end up forgetting the next morning rather than remembering,” explained Walker, who is also the author the new book, “Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power of Sleep and Dreams.”

The study included adults aged 65 and older, the age at which a marked change in the synchrony of brain rhythms has been observed. But Walker notes that people can experience deep-sleep declines beginning as early as their 30s or 40s.

That’s because as we get older, we lose brain cells in the deep-sleep generating part of the brain, which sits just above the eyes in the middle of the brain.

“As you lose those brain cells, you can’t generate that same depth and quality of sleep, nor can you synchronize those brain waves, either,” Walker said.

The study says those synchronized brain waves are believed to enable the “information transformation necessary for long-term memory retention.”

Walker and his colleagues are working to develop new electrical brain simulation technology that could resynchronize brain waves and help restore deep-sleep quality to older adults in the hopes of salvaging some aspects of learning and memory.

Experts recommend adults get at least eight hours of sleep per night.