Trouble Remembering New Names? Get Some Sleep

Brigham and Women’s Hospital study highlights importance of post-learning sleep.

A new study by investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) offers an additional reason to get a good night’s sleep. In a closely controlled study of fourteen participants, researchers found that they were significantly better at remembering faces and names if they were given an opportunity to sleep for up to eight hours after seeing those faces and names for the first time. The team’s findings appear in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory this week.

“We know that many different kinds of memories are improved with sleep. While a couple of studies have looked at how naps might affect our ability to learn new faces and names, no previous studies have looked at the impact of a full night of sleep in between learning and being tested,” said Jeanne F. Duffy, PhD, MBA, corresponding author on this study and associate neuroscientist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at BWH. “We found that when participants were given the opportunity to have a full night’s sleep, their ability to correctly identify the name associated with a face – and their confidence in their answers – significantly improved.”

Participants in the study underwent testing in a controlled environment while staying at BWH’s Center for Clinical Investigation. They were shown 20 photos of faces with corresponding names from a database of over 600 color photographs of adult faces, and asked to memorize them. After a twelve-hour period, they were then shown the photos again with either a correct or incorrect name. In addition to answering whether or not the correct name was shown, participants were asked to rate their confidence on a scale of one to nine.

Each participant completed the test twice – once with an interval of sleep in between and once with a period of regular, waking day activities in between. When given an opportunity to sleep for up to eight hours, participants correctly matched 12 percent more of the faces and names.

The researchers did not find that sleep duration or sleep stage influenced people’s ability to correctly recognize faces and names – more extensive, larger studies will be needed to determine if these factors make an important difference.

The new findings suggest that sleep after new learning activities may help improve memory. While the current study was conducted on healthy subjects in their 20s, the research team would like to explore the implications for people of all ages, including older adults.

Photo of a business man sleeping on a bench.
The researchers did not find that sleep duration or sleep stage influenced people’s ability to correctly recognize faces and names. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

“Sleep is important for learning new information. As people get older, they are more likely to develop sleep disruptions and sleep disorders, which may in turn cause memory issues,” said Duffy. “By addressing issues with sleep, we may be able to affect people’s ability to learn things at all different ages.”

About this sleep and memory research

Funding: Support for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health (grants P01 AG09975, R01 AG044416, and R01 HL094654), and The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health Award UL1 TR0001102 and financial contributions from Harvard University and its affiliated academic health care centers). Students and trainees who worked on the study were supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, The Gyllenberg Foundation, the Finnish Work Environment Fund, and the Department of Psychology at the University of Konstanz (Germany).

Source: Elaine St. Peter – Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Image Credit: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Abstract for “A new face of sleep: The impact of post-learning sleep on recognition memory for face-name associations” by Leonie Maurer, Kirsi-Marja Zitting, Kieran Elliott, Charles A. Czeisler, Joseph M. Ronda, and Jeanne F. Duffy in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Published online November 5 2015 doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2015.10.012


Abstract

A new face of sleep: The impact of post-learning sleep on recognition memory for face-name associations

Sleep has been demonstrated to improve consolidation of many types of new memories. However, few prior studies have examined how sleep impacts learning of face-name associations. The recognition of a new face along with the associated name is an important human cognitive skill. Here we investigated whether post-presentation sleep impacts recognition memory of new face-name associations in healthy adults.

Fourteen participants were tested twice. Each time, they were presented 20 photos of faces with a corresponding name. Twelve hours later, they were shown each face twice, once with the correct and once with an incorrect name, and asked if each face-name combination was correct and to rate their confidence. In one condition the 12-h interval between presentation and recall included an 8-h nighttime sleep opportunity (“Sleep”), while in the other condition they remained awake (“Wake”).

There were more correct and highly confident correct responses when the interval between presentation and recall included a sleep opportunity, although improvement between the “Wake” and “Sleep” conditions was not related to duration of sleep or any sleep stage.

These data suggest that a nighttime sleep opportunity improves the ability to correctly recognize face-name associations. Further studies investigating the mechanism of this improvement are important, as this finding has implications for individuals with sleep disturbances and/or memory impairments.

“A new face of sleep: The impact of post-learning sleep on recognition memory for face-name associations” by Leonie Maurer, Kirsi-Marja Zitting, Kieran Elliott, Charles A. Czeisler, Joseph M. Ronda, and Jeanne F. Duffy in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Published online November 5 2015 doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2015.10.012

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  1. Oh, absolutely. It’s actually pretty amazing how much falls apart (neurologically and bodily) when one doesn’t get enough sleep. Grandma was right…get your sleep… :D Mel

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