New research has found it’s the experiences and thoughts we care about most which are stored in our long term memory during sleep.
Sleep is vital for helping you establish memories – it’s when they’re transferred from your short term to long term memory storage – and now researchers from Swansea University have discovered that it’s the memories you care about most that are stored most easily.
Eight non-Welsh speaking participants were taught Welsh words before a period of sleep and also before being kept awake.
Firstly, those who slept remembered more words than those who stayed awake. However, more interestingly was that the effect was greatest in those who placed personal value on the words themselves.
This would suggest that the brain prioritises the memories perceived as important first when storing them during sleep.
Prof Mark Blagrove from Swansea University who conducted the research at the Sleep Lab there said:
‘The mere fact that your beliefs about something seem to affect how the brain processes things during the night is really quite astounding.’
The study participants were all native English-speaking university students who had recently arrived in Wales and had not previously lived in the country. They were then presented with 28 Welsh and Breton translations of English words. They were also asked to rate how much they valued the Welsh language.
For the sleep group (that is, the group who were allowed to sleep and then asked to recall the words), there was a significant correlation between the value placed on the Welsh language and the number of Welsh words they remembered.
The study was discussed at the British Science Festival and is due to be published in the Journal of Sleep Research.
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