Why all-nighters don't work: Sleep and memory go hand-in-hand

Why all-nighters don't work: How sleep and memory go hand-in-hand

Want to ace that test tomorrow? Here's a tip: Put down the coffee and hit the sack.

Scientists have long known that , and learning are deeply connected. Most animals, from flies to humans, have trouble remembering when sleep deprived, and studies have shown that sleep is critical in converting short-term into long-term memory, a process known as .

But just how that process works has remained a mystery.

The question is, does the mechanism that promotes sleep also consolidate memory, or do two distinct processes work together? In other words, is memory consolidated during sleep because the brain is quiet, allowing memory to go to work, or are memory neurons actually putting us to sleep?

In a recent paper in the journal eLife, graduate students Paula Haynes and Bethany Christmann in the Griffith Lab make a case for the latter.

Haynes and Christmann focused their research on dorsal paired medial (DPM) neurons, well-known memory consolidators in Drosophila. They observed, for the first time, that when DPM neurons are activated, the flies slept more; when deactivated, the flies kept buzzing.

These memory consolidators inhibit wakefulness as they start converting short-term to . All this takes place in a section of the Drosophila brain called the mushroom body, similar to the hippocampus, where our memories are stored. As it turns out, the parts of the mushroom body responsible for memory and learning also help keep the Drosophila awake.

"It's almost as if that section of the mushroom body were saying 'hey, stay awake and learn this,'" says Christmann. "Then, after a while, the DPM neurons start signaling to suppress that section, as if to say 'you're going to need sleep if you want to remember this later.'"

Understanding how sleep and memory are connected in a simple system, like Drosophila, can help scientists unravel the secrets of the human brain.

"Knowing that sleep and memory overlap in the fly brain can allow researchers to narrow their search in humans," Christmann says. "Eventually, it could help us figure out how sleep or memory is affected when things go wrong, as in the case of insomnia or memory disorders."


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Journal information: eLife

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Jan 23, 2015
It used to drive my college classmates crazy, but I refused to cram the night before an exam, my reasoning being that if I didn't know it by then I wasn't going to learn it, so I wouldn't so much as crack a book. I'd be less of a prick about it now if I had it to do over (and I can't imagine trying to return to school now), but I found great value in keeping ahead of the class by a chapter and then kicking back and having a beer the night before.

Jan 23, 2015
If you already know the material, go to sleep. But if you don't quite know how to do those few problems, it's worth staying up for, assuming you can get it figured out. You can't recall what you never knew.

Jan 24, 2015
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