Taking a break may be good for your memory

As memories get older, they seem to get stronger. Over time, in particular during sleep, memories become distributed throughout the brain, making them stronger. But can rest periods during the day have the same effect?

Researchers at the New York University studied brain activity using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. Participants were shown pictures of faces and objects and then were given time to rest while remaining in the scanner.

Brain still stays busy during rest

The researchers found that there was still plenty of brain activity related to memory going on during rest.

In fact, during the rest period, the cortex, the part of the brain that was working while participants looked at the pictures, was interacting with the hippocampus, the part of the brain that lays down memories. The two parts of the brain appeared to be communicating more during the rest period than they were before the participants were shown the pictures.

The researchers also noted that those participants whose brains were more active during the rest period were able to remember more when asked to recall the pictures after resting. When asked whether they were thinking about the pictures during rest, the participants said they were not, suggesting that this activity was occurring without their awareness.

“What this research has shown is really quite terrific,” says Dr. Morris Moscovitch, senior scientist at Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. “It shows that you form connections between various regions of the brain while you’re encoding things to memory and the correlation between them increases while you are resting.”

“The simple lesson, I guess, is that after you’ve had a period of intense learning, try not to start learning something else intensely immediately afterwards.”

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