Need to quickly put a name to a face on a company video call? About to play charades online with your new partner’s entire family? Or are you fretting about putting a name to that colleague’s face when you do go back to work in person?
One day soon you may have a tool to help you quickly learn and retain names and faces, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal NPJ: Science of Learning. Researchers from Northwestern University found playing a recording of people’s names during a night’s deepest sleep period reinforced peoples’ memories and improved their ability to recall names and faces the next morning.
“Our study showed that when memories are reactivated during sleep, memory abilities can be improved after you wake up,” said senior author Ken Paller, a professor of psychology and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program at Northwestern University.
In fact, people were found to remember an average of one and a half more names than they did before they slept. But, Paller added, it only worked when “sleep was not disturbed at the time of memory reactivation.”
Stages of sleep
If you wake frequently due to noises or sleep apnea or to use the bathroom, that’s interrupting your sleep cycle — and depriving the body of the restorative sleep it needs.
The body’s sleep cycle moves though four stages of sleep four to six times each night. In stages 1 and 2, the body starts to decrease its rhythms. Heartbeat and breathing slow, body temperature drops, and eye movements stop. That prepares you for the next stage — a deep, slow-wave sleep, also known as delta sleep. During deep sleep, your body is literally restoring itself on a cellular level — fixing damage from the day’s wear and tear and consolidating memories into long-term storage.
Rapid eye movement sleep, called REM, comes next. This is the stage in which we dream. Studies have shown that missing REM sleep may lead to memory deficit and poor cognitive outcomes, as well as heart and other chronic diseases and an early death.
Since each sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes long, most people need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted slumber to achieve restorative sleep. A chronic lack of sleep impacts your ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems and make decisions.