FRIDAY, July 2, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Sleep helps you remember something you want to do tomorrow or at some other point in the future, according to a new study.
A series of tests involving 24 university students found that students who slept after processing and storing the idea of a planned task were more likely to carry out their intentions than those who tried to tackle their plan before going to sleep.
They also found that the ability to follow through on a planned action isn't so much a function of how firmly that intention is embedded in the memory. It's actually a place, situation or circumstance encountered the next day that triggers a person's recall of their intended action.
This skill, called prospective memory, includes such things as remembering to take medicines, buy a "Happy Anniversary" card, or bring ice cream home for a birthday party, explained the researchers at Washington University in St. Louis in a news release.
They believe that the prospective memory process occurs during slow wave sleep (an early pattern in the sleep cycle) and involves communication between the brain's hippocampus (which plays a critical role in memory formation) and its cortical regions (which are key to memory storage).
"We believe that during slow wave sleep the hippocampus is reactivating these recently learned memories, taking them up and placing them in long-term storage regions in the brain. The physiology of slow wave sleep seems very conducive to this kind of memory strengthening," Michael Scullin, a doctoral candidate in psychology, said in a university news release.
The study is published online in the journal Psychological Science.
Helpguide.org offers tips for improving your memory.