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New Research Links Sleep Drugs To Improved Memory

Sara Mednick, a University of California, Riverside psychologist, talks to KPBS about her discovery of the link between quality sleep and memory.


University of California, Riverside Psychologist Sara Mednick


Many people look forward to Daylight Saving Time. The sun is still shining after work. More hours of light give people the feeling of having more personal time to spend outdoors. But that feeling comes with a price, which many of us are paying today.

Losing a hour over the weekend can mess up your sleep cycle, and since almost half of Americans report not getting enough good sleep normally, the days after Daylight Saving can be rough.

Scientists are getting a better understanding of how crucial quality sleep is in forming memories. UC Riverside psychologist Sara Mednick has made what’s being called a "groundbreaking discovery" on this link. Her findings have been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“This is the first study to show you can manipulate sleep to improve memory. It suggests sleep drugs could be a powerful tool to tailor sleep to particular memory disorders,” Mednick said.

The researchers gave the sleep aid drug Ambien to people during daytime naps, and found that after they woke up, their performance on memory-related tasks improved. The reason, Mednick explained, is that something called "sleep spindles," which are waves of brain activity that happen during short periods of non-REM sleep, increased in the people who took Ambien.

But, Mednick said, researchers are not yet ready to suggest people with memory problems take sleep drugs.

"It's not Ambien per se," she said. "But there is a possibility that we could think about how sleep could be tailored to improve certain kinds of memory deficits."

The loss of sleep and the timing of sleep changes that happen during Daylight Saving Time can also throw us off, she said.

"It's not just the amount of sleep, but it's the timing of when we should be sleeping," she said.

To adjust, we could sleep in on the Monday after Daylight Savings Time to allow ourselves to transition slowly, Mednick suggested. She also said she supports the movement (which includes a White House petition) to get rid of Daylight Savings Time all together.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

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