Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sleeping for Memories




Well, well, well!
Science is about to explain me to my family.
Since childhood there have been countless family stories told and retold about my sleeping.  Famous among them is the story of  my mother standing on my head to hang curtains. Seriously. I was asleep, Mama wanted to see the  results of her creativity and couldn't quite reach the curtain rod and therefore used what was handy for that last little step up. I share in the laughter of the telling but I have no memory of this event.   I was asleep.

Another story my mother tells is of putting me to bed one evening a normal, healthy child. Hours later she came to check on me and found I was still sleeping soundly. She went on to get ready for bed  but some bothersome uneasiness wouldn't leave her alone. She  barefooted back through the house to check the doors were locked, the oven turned off and one more check on  us kids. When she got to my room she turned on the lights knowing it would awaken children but I did not wake up. Not even when she tried to wake me. It was  10 days before I would awaken from a febrile coma. My mother always says it was God whispering in her ear that saved me. She said I had always been such a sound sleeper there was no observable difference.
( I've always been grateful for that whisper.)

So.
Lots of family folklore about my sleeping.
There is also lots of family stories and some considerable amount of razzing about my memory.
I have always chatted about dreams and memories. For me  it has always been like watching a movie. Full color, sound, mood, environment. Everything.  When siblings and I are talking about a shared experience I always have a lot to add. We all share the same general memory but I often have more details. As we have matured, sometimes the others have said,
"That is Fishy's visual thing".
I do have strong visual memories/recall but I also have the ability to visualize what can be. So there is sometimes doubt if I have a vision based memory the others don't share. Did I mention razzing???


 Science to my rescue!
Science now knows, KNOWS!, how well we remember is directly linked to how well we sleep.

When we are awake our memories are stored in the hippocampus portion of the brain. Those memories must then be sorted, cataloged and then stored in the neo-cortex region. That process can only happen in sleep.  A sleeping brain is a busy brain.  It must replay experiences, like video clips, before they can be transformed from short term to long term memories. My brain is stellar at this activity.


Memory is a huge area of scientific and medical research. What is learned can solve the riddles of learning disorders, stress and trauma disorders, how to retrain brains after strokes or surgeries or physical traumas.  Wonderful stuff.  In VA hospitals they have documented thousands of cases of those with dreadful war experiences never having PTSD and also cases with those who have had less horrifying experiences who do suffer, really suffer, from PTSD. There is the possibility that sleep/memory storage is the answer to the riddle and the path to corrections. We can hope.

Most of us are familiar with what is termed short term or long term memory.  Now they are discovering there are all sorts of memory types and they are attempting to  understand how and where they are stored and cataloged. Some believe it is based on the sensory register of the experience.  I understand this. If you go to a beautiful restaurant where the environment is great but the food isn't,  different senses are recording the contrasts: bad taste, beautiful visions.  But there are also episodic memories, emotional memories, flash bulb memories, procedural memories and spacial memories. All these memories are components of the video clips our sleeping  brains  must sort, catalog and file for rapid retrieval on demand. Fascinating. This explains how we as humans can have very different memories of the same experience. Was it stored as an emotional memory or as a visual memory?





This past Summer my Dad was traveling through our state. He came to the Pond for a visit before we set out for lunch. I gave him directions for a bit of a back way to our destination because I wanted him to see a particular house.  I told him, "It's amazing Dad, architecturally it's a smaller version of  Miss Bobbie's house".  His response was, "I'm not sure I remember what that house looked like Fishy. You haven't been in that house since you were really young!"
I hadn't.
But I had loved her house, her property, and her. So strong attachments. As we drove down the boulevard  I pointed out the house to Dad who said, "Well I'll be damned!".   This is a memory with  visual, emotional, sensory and procedural components. But where is it stored? I think many of my memories are cataloged and stored visually. Most of my memory triggers start with an image.  Not a feeling or a recalled smell or an interaction. I do not believe this is true of my siblings. I think their memories are thought triggered, so called light bulb memories.

It is easy to understand how this  sleep-memory link can be a blessing or a curse. If you have a bad experience can you stay awake for days to ensure the memory won't haunt you later?
If you have a fabulous experience should you immediately take a nap for long term enjoyment?
Will this science change how we raise our children? How we educate? Train? Prepare?
I don't have the answers.
What I do know is I will have  far more compassion for my siblings who have not been blessed with good sleep.  They will miss a lot when  we are in our  rockers remembering when.



11 comments:

Boxer said...

Sleep is also tied to our immune systems so I'm wondering if you're also a healthy person who also remembers things well. I too am blessed with solid sleep, something my Mother told me to cherish because she suffered from insomnia most of her adult life.

You were in a coma for ten days??? Did I read that properly? I would say that could be a post in of itself.

All of this reminds of my one of my favorite lines:

"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, Chief nourisher in life's feast

Are you leaving for the ATL today?

fishy said...

Good Morning!

Sleep definitely does "knit up the raveled sleeve of care". A present for which I am regularly grateful.

For someone who was not expected to survive a "severe prolonged coma" (age 5) with predictions of a permanent "vegetative state" if survival happened, I would say I am very blessed and very healthy!

The flip side of the coin is my entire endocrine system was damaged by prolonged temps above 105 in the days when the treatment was to pack the comatose body in alcohol and ice. I can't complain as I am here. The endocrine damage has required life long management of issues and some limitations. But did you read that?
"Lifelong". No complaints.

I have always attributed my survival as God's present to my beloved mother. I hope she never doubts God love for her and never doubts her prayers are heard.

I am headed down to the ATL later today! I will try to sneak some pictures of some of the market offerings. I will not be wearing Honeysuckle Pink to market and have been advised not to "dress for market" but to bring and wear, snow boots. So I am trying to invent a cheerful ensemble featuring mud brown with lime and coral for cheer.

moi said...

Is there anything more interesting than the human brain? It's like contemplating the scope of the universe, it's that complex and mysterious.

With the exception of occasional bouts of insomnia that strike a few times a year and last for about two to three weeks, I'm a solid sleeper with very active, technicolor, and plot-driven dreams.

But I wouldn't necessarily say I have an excellent memory as a result. I do, however, have what a friend called a "deep" memory. I'll remember the most esoteric and minute of details, things that one else noticed, even if the broad generalities of the occasion escape me. In other words, I'll have no idea what prompted us to eat at a particular restaurant, but I'll remember everything everyone in our party ate. I can't remember a college professor's name, but I do remember what cologne he wore.

Aunty Belle said...

uh, well, now---one teeny wee caveat--doan always believe how the popular press presents science.

While sleep may well knot yore raveled sleeve >>> and is the chief nourisher inf life's feast, memory is an illusive thang.

Memory is selective and enhanced of focus fer reasons as numerous as the people havin' the memories.

it's the old courtroom experiment whar' all 12 jurors "saw" the same staged incident, an none remembered it 100% factually accurate.

People "remember" through a combination of chemical input
( chemical markers for fear, pleasure, pain,) what they experience via senses (smell, sight, etc.) an' their own particular filter of past experiences which can color what they think they's perceivin'.

Still, a good night of sleep is a blessin. AN' technicolor dreams is a real plus fer a designin' lady, Fishy.

How was the Market?

Aunty Belle said...

oh mah goodness--I'se sorry, Fishy. That do sound rather didactic, but ya know what I mean.

fishy said...

Moi,
If I read correctly dream sleep and memory cataloging and storage sleep are different. Both are important.
I think your "deep" memory relates well to Aunty's comment below in not remembering the why of the feast but the what.
I can remember the face, clothing, classroom and assignments of my first college English teacher but I struggle to remember his name.

Besides the memory benefits, I purely do love a good night's sleep. It makes your view of the world positive and provides resilience to life's difficulties .

Aunty,
There absolutely ARE numerous factors that effect memory. Certainly the type of memory:
visual, experiential, emotional, intellectual is a huge component. But the STORAGE process happens while we sleep. It's very interesting and, not in the popular press, it's on the MIT website.

I think there will be a market report with pictures!

Milk River Madman said...

Very interesting post and way deeper than I thought when I headed over here. Was thinking there'd be a market report.

I personally don't sleep a lot 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours a night are my usual. While my short term memory has always been a bit of a battle, I attribute that to not paying attention to anything my mind automatically determines to be trivial. It's something that needs work and focus as it is a weak trait to have. As I've aged, it has become better.

My long term memory has never been a problem. However, I do have an odd thing with dreams. While I can tell you honestly that I dream in color, I cannot remember or recite my dreams verbatim as many people can. Most people I know can go into great detail with their dreams. For some reason I can't, unless they are borderline nightmares.

I can tell you I had a dream last night. Something like "Bigfoot and me were fighting Nazis and they were wearing pink suits and yellow helmets" the details after that are non-existent.

I hope the market was a great time.

fishy said...

Madman,
I hope you and Bigfoot prevailed!
If I were a guessing woman I would think the genesis of the dream would be Troll's new header.
You know, kind of a Big Footed Troll warrior? You DID say it was nighmares you rmembered?

Years ago I read a book on dreaming. One of the factors relevant to the clarity and detail of remembering dreams was thought to be if you were a deep REM sleeper early in the sleep cycle or if you are a deep REM sleeper just before awakening. Those who had their longest duration REM sleep just before awakening could recite more details.

Maybe your history of short term memory "deficit" is due to the routine sleep deficit. On the other hand I know I have poor recall of events if I am doing one thing while thinking about another. I will remember the thought more than the action.
In this sort of "deficit" then a
decision to "focus" might indeed be the answer.

Some of the elders in this region will say, " let me sleep on it, the answer will come to me". One of my best drivitives to being a good sleeper is it is my greatest problem solving time. I can fall asleep thinking through a challenge and in the morning I have an answer. I hope that does not mean I am now one of the regional "elders".

chickory said...

i just read this post and still cant remember some of it. my memory isnt great...i dont care that much. I have great visual recall - i remember a face once ive seen it. Good news is my husbands memory is terrible too, so i look pretty good next to him. i think its helped our marriage -nobody ever remembers why we were mad.

i sleep great at the cabin...not so much in the ATL it is so damn noisy there. and there are a lot of interruptions. so...

you are truly blessed fishy!

fishy said...

Chickory,
"... I think it has helped our marriage - nobody ever remembers why we were mad".

Howling funny!
Blowfish would find that a huge improvement in our relationship as he is forever saying,
"Just this once, why don't you try really hard to forget this?"
Whereas I say,
" Will you NEVER learn from your own history?????" We are opposites, I remember everything, he remembers nothing and often refers to me as his "annex". His way of expressing the belief he should have access to my memory at all times. Like a dial up data base. I sigh.

I could not live where I cannot sleep. It makes me irritable in the short term ans psychotic in the long term.

sleep better said...

Sleep enhances our memory and have a great deal to our overall health. Even a single night of poor sleep can seriously impair your memory. Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Better start paying attention to your sleep, because not only your memory can benefit from it but also your own health.