Taking a coffee break aids memory
Scientists have always known that sleeping helps consolidate memory by allowing your mind to sift through recently gained knowledge and file it in the brain. But this new research suggests that even a short rest or break while conscious could help it sort and retain information.
The findings by New York University, which appear in the latest issue of the journal Neuron, expand our understanding of how memories are boosted.
It is also could help explain why we remember some knowledge in exquisite detail but forget others almost immediately.
“Taking a coffee break after class can actually help you retain that information you just learned,” said Dr Lila Davachi, an assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science.
To determine if memory consolidation occurred during periods of conscious rest while awake, the researchers imaged parts of the brain known to play a significant role in memory, the hippocampus and cortical regions.
Titled “Your brain wants you to tune out other tasks so you can tune in to what you just learned,” the experiment tested subjects’ associative memory by showing them pairs of images containing a human face and an object, such as a beach ball, or a human face and a scene, such as a beach, followed by periods of “awake rest”.
Subjects were not informed their memory for these images would later be tested, but, rather, were instructed to rest and simply think about anything that they wanted, but to remain awake during the resting periods.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to gauge brain activity during the task and during the ensuing rest period.
The researchers found that during rest, the areas of the brain were just as active as they were when they were learning the task – especially if the task was particularly memorable.
Also, the greater the correlation between rest and learning the greater the chance of remembering the task in later tests.
“Your brain is working for you when you’re resting, so rest is important for memory and cognitive function,” Dr Davachi said. ”
This is something we don’t appreciate much, especially when today’s information technologies keep us working round-the-clock.”
Researchers have discovered that the mind keeps most memories for just a day but then at night acts like a film editor sifting through the “video clips” before transferring the best bits to long term storage in our own movie archive.
Experiments in humans and mice show that memories are first stored in the hippocampus, a sea horse shaped part of the central brain, before being “replayed” and then being filed in the outer neocortex, otherwise known as grey matter.