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People looking to improve their memory should consider getting a good night's sleep. Researchers at Stanford University have found that interrupted sleep causes memory damage in mice.
"Regardless of the total amount of sleep, a minimal unit of uninterrupted sleep is crucial for memory consolidation," study authors write.
Scientists have had theories regarding sleep and memory for years, but it has been difficult to prove because of the sleep-deprivation techniques required to carry out such research. Stanford researchers had the challenge of figuring out how to interrupt sleep without stressing the animal, or changing sleep duration and intensity.
The team controlled specific cells with pulses of light and found that if they stimulated these cells with 10-second bursts of light, they could fragment sleep without affecting quality or duration.
Researchers then placed mice in a box with two objects, one they had been exposed to before and the other they had never seen. Mice naturally explore a new object, but the animals with fragmented sleep did not spend more time with the new object than the old one. The rodents that experienced continuous sleep explored the new object longer, suggesting that they were able to remember the old object while the other mice did not.