The relationship between sleep and memory

I’ve become fascinated by the role that sleep plays in a person’s life. The more I read and investigate, the more I become convinced that sleep is one of the most important aspects of healthy living. What has also intrigued me is the role that sleep plays in cementing memories. I’ve spent the last six years in Germany teaching people new vocabulary and English grammar rules, and what I failed to see is that without proper sleep, many of my students will be unable to remember what I teach them. That is why I’ve made it a priority to not just focus on language acquisition but also on healthy living which perhaps is of greater value.

So what is the relationship between sleep and memory?

First of all, someone that is sleep-deprived is not able to focus properly, which in turns affects their ability to learn new information. I see it time and time again, when my students are tired they start yawning and I can tell that they’re not paying attention. And if they can’t pay attention, then the information I teach them goes in one ear and out the other.

Secondly, during the night our brain takes the information we learned during the day and transfers it to the long-term memory. Without proper sleep, this process cannot occur.

How can I get a better night’s rest?


The food we consume can help improve our sleep quality. We need calcium, which is found in broccoli, kale, almonds, and sunflower seeds. We need magnesium, which is found in bananas, dark leafy greens, beans, and nuts. We need complex carbohydrates, which are found in brown and wild rice, barley, quinoa, potatoes and legumes.


Exercise is not just good for your body, it’s also good for your mind. It helps you relax and releases chemicals into the brain which allow for a better sleep quality. The only thing to remember is that you don’t want to exercise too close to bed time. The body cools down at night, and if you workout before going to bed your body won’t be able to do that.


I know this is the one everyone will complain about the most. The caffeine found in coffee and some teas prevents our bodies and minds from being able to rest. Someone once told me, “coffee helps me sleep.” It may be possible that you’ll fall asleep after drinking coffee, but whether you can get quality sleep is another question. Avoid drinking coffee after 2 pm so that it doesn’t interfere with your sleep quality.


Choose a bed time and stick to it. This is one of the hardest suggestions to apply. In our busy lives, we are constantly running around and have dozens of tasks on our to-do list. At the end of the day, we sit in our beds and what do we do?… scroll on social media before falling asleep. This is not good for two reasons. One, the blue light created by our phones/tv’s/laptops tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime. Two, when we stay up until late at night watching tv or scrolling through our phones we end up sleeping fewer hours. For most of us, between 7-8 hours of sleep is ideal. And if you can get it at the same time each night, it’s even better.

I want you all to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives, so take your sleep seriously.

Vocabulary Words

  1. fascinated (adj.): strongly attracted and interested.
  2. to cement (verb): settle or establish firmly.
  3. sleep-deprived (adj.): suffering from a lack of sleep.
  4. in one ear and out the other (phrase): heard but quickly forgotten.
  5. proper (adj): of the required or correct type or form; suitable or appropriate.
  6. stick to something (phrase): to do something that you promised or decided you would do, or that you believe you should do.
  7. scroll (verb): to move text or other information on a computer screen in order to see a different part of it.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Sleep also plays a role in….
  2. Someone who is sleep-deprived is not able to…
  3. What happens while we sleep?
  4. Where do you find magnesium?
  5. (True or False) It is good to exercise before going to bed.
  6. Avoid drinking coffee after…
  7. What is the ideal number of hours we should sleep?

Discussion Question

On a scale between 1-10, what is your sleep quality on most nights?

Source: Dr. Michael Breus

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