Sleep Study Finds Genes Can Affect Memory

Your day starts off with a shower, getting the kids breakfast and off to school, getting ready and going to work, coming home and getting dinner ready and cleaning up around the house, and — if you’re luck, time to kick back and relax with some TV or nice hot bath. Rain or shine, this routine doesn’t deviate on weekdays, and during this time you probably didn’t get enough sleep.

Do you wake up a little fuzzy, groaning that you need to sleep in just a little longer — or what many people do and turn the alarm clock off at least once as you try to get enough energy to get up? This is a good indicator that you didn’t get the proper sleep.

Many people will tell you, even brag, that they live off of only a couple hours a sleep a night. What they are really saying is that they are having problems sleeping, and probably are taking catnaps throughout the day. This certainly doesn’t leave them feeling tip-top. What happens then at work or school? They are walking zombies. They can’t concentrate or function as well as they should, and this can be dangerous.

“And the most worrisome part of this is these people don’t realize how sleep-deprived they really are,” says Hans P.A. Van Dongen, PhD, lead researcher and assistant professor of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “When people are put through chronic sleep deprivation, there is an initial response where they say, ‘OK, this is not optimal but I’ll manage.’ But after a few days of this, things are much worse than they realize.”

According to Van Dongen, “They have slower reaction time, weakened memory, and other thinking impairments.” The good news is, you can actually catch up and reinvigorate — with a few days of good sleep, that includes no distractions and interruptions.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there could be 50 to 70 million Americans who are experiencing some type of sleep disorder that could “significantly diminish” health, safety and alertness. The disorder could take the form of too much sleep, too little sleep, sleep apnea, or a poor quality of sleep. The results are more accidents, more trips to the doctor, more medications, memory lapses, and slower reaction times.

Research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience gives this problem a different perspective. Scientists have been able to pinpoint the effects of sleep in different regions of the brain under different conditions — waking, sleeping and during periods of sleep deprivation. They mapped the behavior of over 200 genes within seven areas of the brain by identifying which genes were turned of or on, and where they were located in the brain. They concluded that sleep deprivation affects the area of the brain thought to control our higher cognitive reasoning, emotions and memory – the frontal lobe.

The study found a “novel set” of genes associated with sleep deprivation that included genes related to stress response, irritability, impaired memory, concentration and coordination. These symptoms were found to be common among people who worked long hours (health care and military, for example) and were deprived of the proper amount of sleep. It also linked sleep deprivation to the development of depression, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Track brain activity will aid in developing treatment for many diseases that can be traced back to lack of adequate sleep its effects, including memory.

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About the author:

Ron White is a two-time USA Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at


Memory Zine:

Functional neuroimaging insights into how sleep and sleep deprivation affect memory and cognition by Michael W.L. Chee and Lisa Y.M. Chuah:

WebMd: Sleep Deprivation Leads To Trouble Fast:

WebMd: The Toll of Sleep Loss in America:

National Sleep Foundation:

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