Science Weekly: All nighters may not be helping you learn

Fatigue a way of life for many college students  (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Fatigue a way of life for many college students. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

The late night cram is something college students are familiar with. However, a new study shows that sleep is what may  help us learn the material needed to ace our classes.

Sleep, memory and learning have been known to have strong correlations with one another. Most creatures have a hard time remembering when they feel tired. Sleep is crucial in converting short-term memory into long-term. This process is known as memory consolidation.

One nagging question has been this: Does our brain consolidate memory because it has less to focus on while sleeping, or are the memory neurons in our brains actually putting us to sleep?

In the study, graduate students Paula Haynes and Bethany Christmann of Brandeis University argue that the mechanism in our brains that promotes sleep may help consolidate memory as well.

Haynes and Christmann concentrated their research on dorsal-paired medial neurons. These neurons are memory consolidators in the part of a fly’s brain, which is similar to a human’s.  Research on the neurological functions of a fly has helped unlock many secrets to the human brain.

The part of the insect’s brain called the mushroom body, which is responsible for memory and learning, also keeps the fly awake. Haynes and Christmann noticed that when the neurons were activated in flies, the flies slept more; when those neurons were deactivated, the flies kept buzzing.

Christmann says this research could help other research that examines how sleep and memory are affected in cases of insomnia and memory disorders, as well as helping unlock more mysteries in the human brain.

Before you plan to hit the books all night and cram for an exam, consider it may be more beneficial to you and your grade to get a good night’s rest.

Information compiled from