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Want to Remember? Go to Sleep?

Want to retrieve elusive memories?maybe remember what happened during "missing time?" The best way to do this is to get a good night's sleep. If the brain has time to "digest" the memories laid down during the day, they will be easier to remember later.

When researchers from the University of Chicago asked volunteers to remember simple words, they tended to forget them as the day wore on. However, the people who slept well that night could remember many more of them the next day. When the brain is first asked to remember something, that memory is laid down in an "unstable" state, meaning it can be lost. But when we sleep, the brain consolidates the memories it has decided are important into a more permanent state.

However, a "stable" memory can be made "unstable" again. This is why hypnosis used to retrieve memories can be so dangerous. If the hypnotist gives even subtle suggestions to the person being hypnotized, the memories that emerge can be changed and the original ones can be lost forever.

Researcher Daniel Margoliash says, "Sleep consolidates memories, protecting them against subsequent interference or decay. Sleep also appears to 'recover' or restore memories?Sleep might actively recover what has been lost."

Psychologist Karim Nader says, "Memory research is undergoing a transformation?no longer is memory thought to be a hard-wiring of the brain, instead it seems to be a process of storage and re-storage. Sleep helps some memories 'mature' and also prunes out unimportant memories."

They must have slept well, because the people who wrote us letters remembered a lot.

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