Sleep Protects Our Memories In More Ways Than One

A solid night’s sleep is known to protect your memories from bouts of forgetfulness — and now we know it’s making them more accessible, too.

New research from the University of Exeter and the Basque Centre for Cognition, Brain and Language is taking our understanding of the relationship between sleep and the brain’s memory functions to the next level, exploring the idea that memories could be enhanced and made more available for use the following day.

“Sleep almost doubles our chances of remembering previously unrecalled material,” researcher Nicolas Dumay said in a statement. “The post-sleep boost in memory accessibility may indicate that some memories are sharpened overnight. This supports the notion that, while asleep, we actively rehearse information flagged as important.”

For their research, Dumay and his team tracked subjects’ memories of unique nonsense words that they were exposed to either before a full night’s sleep or an equal-length period of being awake. The subjects were asked to recall the nonsense words immediately after hearing them and then again after the period of sleep or wakefulness.

The researchers found that sleep was actually more successful than wakefulness in helping subjects rescue their memories of the words. Dumay thinks that this memory boost comes from the hippocampus, which is in charge of “unzipping” recent information and replaying it to other parts of the brain to create a captured memory.

While more research is needed to understand the functional significance of this finding, Dumay’s work is a step in the right direction. Another recent study was able to qualify the opposite effect — that a lack of sleep can make it harder to remember and recall what you already know. Clearly there’s no denying that sleep it crucial for a healthy brain, and now we have even more —> Read More

The VA’s ‘Experts’ On Toxic Chemicals May Not Know What They’re Talking About

Pfc. Donald Burpee spent four months of 1975 living at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina. On July 7 of this year, at the age of 59, he lost an eight-year battle with kidney cancer — one of a number of illnesses linked with exposure to the toxic chemicals that tainted the drinking water at Camp Lejeune between the 1950s and 1980s.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provided Burpee with medical coverage, including hospice, but repeatedly denied his claims for disability benefits. Burpee died not knowing whether his wife, four children and four grandchildren would be taken care of in the future.

“They throw up so many roadblocks to you, it’s unreal,” said Brenda Burpee, Donald’s widow.

Camp Lejeune’s water was contaminated by dozens of chemicals beginning in at least 1953, though it was only discovered in the early 1980s. The contamination has been traced to leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills and the disposal of solvents from an on-base dry cleaner. Among the chemicals, trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride and benzene are thought to be the most damaging to human health. Lejeune veterans have reported ailments including prostate and bladder cancer, as well as chronic kidney disease. Kidney cancer is not uncommon.

Burpee’s family found the VA’s denial baffling. Given the science supporting a connection between exposure to TCE and kidney cancer, what was the rationale for withholding disability?

The family learned that the VA’s decision rested largely on the opinion of one of 22 experts recently hired by the agency to review veterans’ claims, part of what’s known as the subject matter expert program. The program was launched in 2013 to ensure “consistent and accurate decisions for Camp Lejeune veterans,” according to internal VA documents. But veterans’ advocates and scientists have raised troubling —> Read More

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