Not Getting Enough Sleep? Here’s How Sleep Can Affect Your Memory

Without enough sleep, your brain struggles to acquire and recall new knowledge. Read on to know how sleep affects your memory.

Sambhav Kumar
Written by: Sambhav KumarUpdated at: May 24, 2023 18:08 IST
Not Getting Enough Sleep? Here’s How Sleep Can Affect Your Memory

Malaria & Dengue Day 2023: Fever Causes, Symptoms and Prevention Guide - Onlymyhealth

Memory is a complex process that involves the acquisition, encoding, storage, and retrieval of information. Sleep plays a fundamental role in memory consolidation—the process by which newly acquired information is stabilised and stored in long-term memory.

According to Journal Sleep Research Society, during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, specifically slow-wave sleep (SWS), memories are selectively consolidated. This deep stage of sleep promotes the transfer of memories from the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for initial memory encoding, to the neocortex, where long-term memories are stored. SWS has been linked to declarative memory, which encompasses factual knowledge and events.

Memory Consolidation And Eye Movement 

Memory consolidation has also been linked to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is typified by increased brain activity and vivid dreaming. REM sleep is especially critical for procedural memory, which involves acquiring and recalling skills like playing an instrument or riding a bike. 

As per journal Physiological Reviews, REM sleep has been proven to improve the integration of freshly acquired procedural memories, allowing for their refining and optimisation.

Also read: Sleep And Immune System: Expert Explains The Impact Of Not Taking Adequate Sleep

Sleep Deprivation and Memory Impairment

While the importance of sleep in memory consolidation is evident, the consequences of sleep deprivation on memory are equally striking. Lack of sufficient sleep can impair memory function, affecting both the acquisition and retention of information.

During sleep deprivation, the brain's ability to encode new memories becomes compromised. Journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment have revealed that sleep-deprived individuals exhibit reduced attention, decreased working memory capacity, and impaired ability to process and retain information. The hippocampus, which is important for memory formation, is particularly affected by sleep deprivation, leading to a decline in memory consolidation.

Sleep deprivation hampers memory retrieval and recall. The ability to access stored memories is compromised, resulting in difficulties in retrieving information accurately and efficiently. Sleep-deprived individuals often experience "tip-of-the-tongue" moments, where they struggle to recall specific details despite knowing that the information is stored in their memory.

The Role of Sleep Spindles and Brain Waves

Journal PLOS Computational Biology has focused on the role of specific electrical patterns in the brain, such as sleep spindles and slow oscillations, in memory consolidation during sleep. Sleep spindles, brief bursts of brain activity that occur during NREM sleep, have been associated with the strengthening of newly formed memories. Studies have found that the presence of sleep spindles is positively correlated with improved memory performance, highlighting their role in memory processing.

Slow oscillations, rhythmic patterns of brain activity that occur during SWS, have been linked to memory consolidation. These oscillations facilitate communication between the hippocampus and neocortex, allowing for the transfer of memories from temporary storage to long-term storage.


Sleep, far from being a mere period of rest, exerts a profound influence on our memory. Through the intricate mechanisms of memory consolidation, sleep facilitates the encoding, storage, and retrieval of information.