Is Your Memory Being Robbed?

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

April 10, 2013

  • This nighttime thief might be stealing your memory
  • Your heart might be at risk, too
  • 5 tricks for a perfect night’s sleep… every single night

A common complaint among my patients is an inability to get a full night’s sleep. They don’t feel tired when bedtime rolls around. And when they finally hop into the sack, some of them seem to spend an awful lot of time tossing and turning.

Finally the Sandman comes! But not for long.

After just a few hours of shut-eye, many of these folks find themselves waking frequently. By the time morning rolls around, some of them tell me they feel more tired than they did before they went to sleep.

I always hate to hear this. Because a lack of sleep doesn’t just leave you feeling groggy and slow. It can also affect your memory. And the older you get, the worse it becomes.

Patients are always surprised to find out their forgetfulness could be related to sleeping problems. Most of them just put it off to aging.

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But let me share the details of a new study with you. It clears up a lot of the confusion about how a poor night’s sleep can affect your memory…

Neuroscientists at UC Berkeley have revealed that, during deep sleep, memories get transported from short-term memory (the hippocampus) to long-term memory (the prefrontal cortex.) Just think of it like moving stored data on a CD disc to your documents on your computer’s hard disk.

But in older adults who don’t sleep well, not all of the memories get moved. Instead, some of them get stuck in the hippocampus where they end up being overwritten by new memories.

The researchers discovered this by comparing short-term memory in 18 young adults and 15 older adults. Before going to sleep all of the participants learned 120 word sets. And during sleep, EEG machines measured their brain activity.

The results: Quality of deep sleep in the older adults was 75% less than that experienced by the younger group. And their memory of the word pairs the following day was 55% worse.

If you’re not getting enough sleep at night and find your memory is getting worse at the same time, this may explain why.

Here’s what else happens when you don’t get enough sleep…

Losing control of your memories is worrisome. And in just a moment I’m going to tell you how you can boost your memory with a better night’s sleep. But first, I want to share some of the other problems that may occur if you’re not getting a full night’s sleep.

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Cardiovascular disease: People who don’t get enough sleep may be at higher risk of heart attack. A large-scale study that followed 52,610 people for almost 12 years found that any number of sleep disorders can increase the risk.

Participants who had difficulty falling asleep almost every day were at 45% increased risk. Those who had trouble staying asleep at night had a 30% higher risk. And people who slept poorly had a 27% increased risk.

Weight gain and diabetes: Did you know that if you get less than 5 hours of sleep a night it could lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and weight gain?

It turns out that when you don’t get enough sleep it messes with your insulin response. Recent research shows the insulin sensitivity of fat cells could drop by about 30% after just four nights of reduced sleep. This means less energy, worse sugar metabolism, a bigger appetite and more weight gain.

Chronic inflammation: Numerous studies have linked sleep disorders with increased markers of inflammation, including higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP.) CRP is closely associated with many health conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and more. It’s just as important, if not more so, as your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Now that you have all the facts, it’s clear that the best thing you can do for you memory, and your health, is to get a full seven to eight hours of sleep each night. And here’s how you can do it…

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents had a nighttime routine all mapped out for you?

They’d shut the TV down at the same time each night. Then they would send you off to take your bath and brush your teeth. And not long afterward, they’d tuck you in and turn the lights off. Back then I’ll bet it didn’t long until you were sound asleep.

This type of regular routine before bedtime helps maintain your body’s natural rhythm. It quickly learns that when certain conditions occur, it’s time to shut down for the night. So here are some tricks to get you started:

  1. Shut the TV, computer, cell phone and most of your houselights down at the same time every night – just about an hour before you want to hit the sack. This will create a quiet, low-light ambience that will tell your body it’s getting close to bedtime.

  2. Take time to relax before bedtime. Try getting your more active and mentally challenging chores completed early in the evening. Then spend that last hour relaxing your mind with low-energy activities. Listen to music. Read a book. Take a warm, soothing bath.

  3. Drink a cup of green tea while you’re unwinding. Limited research shows the L-theanine in green tea can help you sleep better and wake up feeling more refreshed.

  4. Reset your internal time clock. If you have a tough time nodding off, try supplementing with melatonin to re-establish your sleep cycle. Try 1 mg. about an hour before bedtime and you’ll probably sleep like a baby all night long.
  5. Sleep longer – and more deeply – with valerian and hops. In a study that compared the use of valerian (600 mg.) against a sleep aid, valerian was as effective as the sedative. In fact 83% of the participants rated valerian as “very good” compared to 73% who received the drug. Another study found that combining valerian and hops can improve total sleep time, quality of sleep and deep sleep.

If you stick to this regular routine and set your alarm to wake up at the same time every morning, it shouldn’t take you long re-establish normal sleeping and waking patterns. And once that happens, you won’t believe how much more effective your memory will be!


Poor sleep in old age prevents the brain from storing memories. UC Berkeley News Center. Jan. 28, 2013.

Lars E. Laugsand, Lars J. Vatten, Carl Platou, Imre Janszky. Insomnia and the Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction: A Population Study. Circulation, 2011; 124: 2073-2081

Josiane L. Broussard, et al. Impaired Insulin Signaling in Human Adipocytes After Experimental Sleep Restriction: A Randomized, Crossover Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2012; 157 (8): 549-557

Aldabal L, Bahammam AS. Metabolic, endocrine, and immune consequences of sleep deprivation. Open Respir Med J. 2011;5:31-43. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

Ziegler G, Ploch M, Miettinen-Baumann A, Collet W. Efficacy and tolerability of valerian extract LI 156 compared with oxazepam in the treatment of non-organic insomnia–a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study. Med Res. 2002 Nov 25;7(11):480-6.

Dimpfel W, Suter A. Sleep improving effects of a single dose administration of a valerian/hops fluid extract – a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled sleep-EEG study in a parallel design using electrohypnograms. Eur J Med Res. 2008 May 26;13(5):200-4

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