By Daniella Lee
We hold our memories near and dear to our heart, but what if those same memories are just an episode from Full House? Earlier this week, we talked about the theory of prosthetic memory. This theory states that humans substitute memories or ideas they have seen in media entertainment in place of memories from their own reality. Now before you freak out and cause an early mid-life crisis because your whole life as you remember it is a lie, the concept of prosthetic memories provides an opportunity to re-examine the development of your personality. If you still think you were raised by three men and blurted out phrases like “how rude” when you didn’t get your way, then you might need an intervention (possibly with corny music in the background).
Prosthetic memories may force some harsh realizations about your childhood, but the media doesn’t have total control of your brain, yet. Scientists are discovering new ways to make memories, ones that don’t involve the media. Researcher Jan Born and colleagues from the University of Lubeck in Germany studied the different stages of sleep. The deepest stage of sleep, known as slow-wave, plays an important role in memory consolidation. This is the stage when information, or memories, get stored into the brain. In his study, Born set out to improve these memories by electrically stimulating the brain.
During the study, a group of medical students were given a list of words to memorize. On one of the several nights they would receive an electric shock. Born attached electrodes to the students’ heads. delivering a low-frequency, low-voltage electric shock while they slept. The stimulation that occurred forced the brain into slow-wave sleep. The following night, the students were given another list of words to memorize and put to bed without getting zapped.
The students remembered more words from the list the night they received the electrode shock. Born concluded that inducing slow-wave sleep could help to consolidate memories. In a typical night, humans only spend 20 minutes in this stage of sleep. Slow-wave sleep plays a vital role in strengthening our bones, muscles, immune systems and memories. Obviously falling into this deep sleep is important for the body, yet it’s so difficult to reach this stage. Born’s electric brain stimulation might not only help our memorization, but being able to reach slow-wave sleep can provide benefit to a healthy, longer life.
Born’s findings open the door to more research on slow-wave sleep and memory retention. If we start zapping ourselves into a deep sleep we can keep our real memories and stop using the media’s storyline for our life. If you still think you’re related Uncle Jesse, then we might need to up the voltage on that electric current and keep you dreaming for a while… possibly forever.
“Restoring Slow Wave Sleep Shown To Enhance Health and Increase Lifespan”
by: Jim English
Nutrition Review, 2010
“Boosting Slow Oscillations During Sleep Potentiates Memory”
by: Jan Born, Lisa Marshall, Halla Helgadóttir and Matthias Mölle
Nature 444, 610-613