Since the early 1900s, studies have been done to measure our ability to remember. In one study, test subjects were given a list of syllables to memorize. Following the study period, one group was assigned a new list to memorize with no rest, while the other group was given a short rest. The findings were that the group that rested could recall 50% of the list while the other group given a new list to memorize only recalled 28% of the original list of syllables. It seems the brain is rather fragile after receiving new input and a recharge helps retain the new information.
Not much more was done with the information until the early 2000s, when researchers were interested in whether or not these findings could help patients who suffered from neurological injuries such as strokes or Alzheimer’s disease. They were surprised to learn that patients allowed to rest in a darkened room following memorizing a list of words retained 49% of the words compared to a recall rate of 14% to those given more tasks.
It appears that there is heightened communication between the hippocampus, where memories are formed, and the cerebral cortex strengthening new neural connections. This was thought previously to only occur during sleep. Studying before bed has been beneficial for many. But it has been tested that similar communication between the hippocampus and cortex also occurs during wakeful rest, helping us remember more.
More studies are being done to find ways to apply these findings to help stroke victims and people with Alzheimer’s learn. The brain needs downtime to retain learning, and it seems reducing stimulation can help that process. It can be applied to the simplest things, such as an Alzheimer’s patient remembering a caregiver’s name or students retaining more information by studying before bed, which can mean the difference in a grade or two. So, remember your brain needs recharging like your phone to make your memory better.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO