Scientists and medical doctors agree that most people need to spend enough time sleeping to recharge their bodies (recommendations range from at least 6 hours per night to 8 or more). There are several stages of sleep (primarily “REM sleep” and “deep sleep”) and all are important for your physical and mental health. If you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system may be damaged, your metabolism may be changed (and not in a good way), and most importantly, the vitality and functionality of the neurons in your brain may be negatively impacted. In addition, your ability to remember things decreases because much of the process of long-term memory storage occurs during one of the two main phases of sleep.
In REM sleep, your brain is processing the memories that involve your body (often called procedural memory). REM stands for “rapid eye movement,” something that is seen as you essentially replay the events of the day through the unconscious filter of dreaming. During this stage, you are storing memories of things that involve skill and dexterity.
In deep sleep, you are adding to your store of facts and data. Without having this period of time during which your brain can sort through all of the information you gathered during the day, keeping what is necessary and discarding what is not, you’ll find it much harder to both memorize and then recall essential knowledge.
One thing that can help you get enough sleep is establishing a routine. Try to go to bed and to get up at the same time each day. If possible, get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try meditation or another relaxing mental exercise to calm and quiet your mind. If there’s something you need to remember for the next day, or information you want to be sure to put in long-term memory, go over it right before you turn out the light. Remember to keep your body comfortable as well, with a comfortable bed and a room that isn’t too hot or too cold. You might also try a natural herbal tea containing linden, chamomile, or hops – drinking a small cup of hot tea will soothe you and help you relax to get a better night’s sleep.
References: “To sleep, perchance to learn.” John Whitfield. Nature, April 26, 2001
“Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke