Have a problem sheet due tomorrow? Have you already booked a table at the library, stocked up on caffeine tablets and chocolate? You might want to rethink that. Graduate students Paula Haynes and Bethany Christmann from Brandeis University have debunked the might of the all-nighter.
It has long been known that there is a connection between sleep, memory and learning. But does sleep consolidate our memory, allowing memory neurons to convert short-term memory into long-term memory, or do memory neurons make us go to sleep?
Haynes and Christmann have provided us with an answer. Their research, published in the journal e-Life, examined dorsal paired medial neurons in Drosophila, which serve as memory consolidators. When DPM neurons are stimulated, the flies sleep more. When the neurons are deactivated, the flies went on with their activities.
The DPM neurons are found in the mushroom body of the Drosophila brain which contributes to learning, memory and wakefulness and resembles the human hippocampus. As the neurons begin converting short-term memory to long-term memory, they induce sleepiness. That is perhaps the reason why sleep-deprived animals and humans have more difficulty remembering and learning.
The research suggests a way in which sleep and memory are connected which might be crucial in fathoming out the mysteries of the human brain. Christmann commented: “Knowing that sleep and memory overlap in the fly brain can allow researchers to narrow their search in humans. Eventually, it could help us figure out how sleep or memory is affected when things go wrong, as in the case of insomnia or memory disorders.”