Good news for insomniacs: taking a relaxing break can strengthen your memory much like sleeping does. One of the reasons sleep is so integral to human health is that it helps people remember information. During a good night's rest, the brain consolidates memories, putting short-term remembrances into long-term storage. However, this consolidation process can also happen while we’re awake, according to a recent study in the journal Hippocampus.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that a brief break in a quiet room could also prompt the consolidation of memories, especially those related to spatial navigation. In the study, 40 volunteers were asked to explore a virtual reality environment, learning a specific route through the virtual world. Afterward, they either spent 10 minutes sitting in a dimly lit room, letting their minds wander without any distractions, or they spent 10 minutes on an unrelated task. Those who rested quietly performed better when tested later on their knowledge of the virtual environment. In fact, they were able to point out landmarks in the world from various places 10 percent better than the control group.
This ability to consolidate memories while awake but resting might be one reason that meditation has been linked to better memory. It’s also good news for people who don’t get enough sleep. Your brain can, at some level, consolidate memories in other ways. (Though there are other important reasons to get a solid amount of shuteye.) It’s also a good argument for study breaks—at least the kind that involve staring into space and not playing Fruit Ninja.
[h/t: New Scientist]