London - Without a good night’s sleep tonight, you may have no recollection of reading this by tomorrow.
Just two hours of missed slumber is enough to stop the brain from laying down and storing memories, research suggests – and simply dropping from eight hours of sleep to six could make the difference.
What is more, any memories lost due to not getting enough shut-eye may be gone for ever, the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference heard.
Researcher Ted Abel said: “I think what it really means for modern life is that sleep is not a luxury.
“It is really critically important for the brain and for the brain to function and for you to be able to really remember and consolidate what’s happened to you over the day.
“I think we often feel that if we could grab a cup of coffee and answer five more emails, we would have done everything we could do. Sometimes it might be better to go to sleep and deal with it after.”
Professor Abel and his team form the University of Pennsylvania looked at how mice that were stopped from sleeping fared on a memory task.
The creatures were kept awake for varying amounts of time, to pinpoint just how little sleep had to be lost for their recall to be damaged.
The professor told the New Orleans conference: “What we found is that when we deprived animals of sleep, that impaired storage of memories.
“And most importantly we found out that a very short period of time would block memory consolidation, it was as short as three hours, which for mice is something like 20 percent of their sleep over 24 hours.
“In human terms, it would be the equivalent of dropping an eight-hour night of sleep to six hours, which is something we do all the time.”
It is thought that the replay of our memories while we are asleep is essential for their proper storage in the brain.
The study also suggested that there is a critical period after learning during in which memories are consolidated, meaning that loss of sleep at some points in time may be more damaging than at others.
Professor Abel, who tries to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, added that any information lost due to lack of sleep is gone forever - meaning that sleeping longer the next night won’t bring it back.
Neil Stanley, one of Britain’s leading sleep experts, said: “The important thing about sleep is that is allows the brain to do things that it is far too busy to do during the day.
“Sleep is the quiet time that gives the brain time to do the filing.”
Dr Stanley, who set up world-class sleep labs at Surrey University before becoming a freelance sleep consultant, added that lack of memory consolidation can lead to people forgetting to carry out simple tasks.
“This is the cause of why when you tell your husband to do something and then tomorrow you say, ‘But I told you that’, and you think he’s being difficult or stupid.
“But it is because he may not have laid down that memory. He may have intended to remember it but because it is not laid down, he can’t retrieve it.” - Daily Mail