How sleep can improve your memory of anatomy and physiology
As you study subjects such as anatomy and physiology, the neurons in your brain’s memory storage areas rearrange their connections forming memory synapses specific for the new information you are trying to remember. For this process to complete itself properly your brain needs a few hours of continuous sleep after each period of new study.
Sleep anchors the neuron changes associated with new memory into long-term stable connections. Sleep, when it comes shortly after the study of new concepts, allows your neurons to consolidate the anatomical changes in the brain’s memory storage compartment.
The cool outcome of memory consolidation is that it creates a physical structure called a memory matrix in your brain. The memory matrix is like a virtual filing cabinet dedicated to a particular type of information which can be easily accessed for comparison when more of that type of information presents itself.
Brain theory of neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the neurons of the brain to realign their anatomical connections based upon sensory input. It includes formation of new neurons, death of existing neurons, and realignment of the connections between neurons called synapses.
The theory of neuroplasticity has only recently replaced the long believed dogma that neuron anatomy of the adult brain was a fixed arrangement. Neuron connections in the adult human brain were thought to be hard-wired until the late 1990s. It was believed during almost all of the 20th Century that human neurons could not perform self-renewal, and that all the nerve connections ever needed were in their final form by the end of puberty.
There is emerging data that neuroplasticity is the process by which memory is created and stored in the brain. Neurogenesis, the ability of brain neurons to self-renew, is one aspect of the process of neuroplasticity. Neurogenesis has been confirmed in several adult brain areas including the human hippocampus and cerebellum. Both of these brain areas are very important to memory formation and memory recall.
In contrast to neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity is a term used to describe the adult and developmental brain’s ability to change its existing neuronal connections, synapses, without loss or gain of the entire neuron. Synapses are specialized cell membrane structures. They mark the location where communication takes place between a nerve ending and its target cell. The anatomical parts of the neuron that are being pruned, reshaped, or expanded during memory formation are the dendrite’s small protrusions called dendritic spines.
The neuroplasticity theory states synapses at dendritic spines form, mature, and are deleted dependent upon the frequency of the incoming sensory nerve activity. A corollary of the theory of neuroplasticity is that neuron terminals incoming to dendrites must be mobile in order to search for available connections. In fact, axon terminals and dendrites of brain nerves have been demonstrated to possess a pulsating motion.
As you continue your studies, the memory matrix for anatomy and physiology in your brain will become larger and stronger over time. Be aware though that patience is required when you are consolidating a place in your brain to store so much data. The term memory matrix was first used by psychologists to explain how repeated exposure to related ideas increases the pace at which the brain can absorb and retain new information.
Do not give up too soon on anatomy and physiology. It takes time for a brain to build a memory matrix.
I have a pre-existing memory matrix for reading scientific papers in physiology and biochemistry. However, I also remember clearly how difficult and painful it was to build that memory matrix for the first time. Reading and understanding such papers when I was a beginning graduate student took what seemed like forever, and I remembered very little of what they contained. Now I can read a large stack of newly published papers in physiology or biochemistry in an hour, and I can remember very clearly what they contain.
I have located a video on this subject for you. It is a video of a presentation by Frank Longo, MD, PhD on YouTube. Dr. Longo’s video, Learning & Memory: How it Works & When it Fails, is about two hours long. It is a lecture he presented at Stanford University in 2010.
Please do not be discouraged by length of the video. The entire presentation is terrific if you are interested in amnesia, but the parts you will want to watch that are relevant to this post are at the video times of 1:09 (that is one hour:nine minutes) to 1:18 (one hour:eighteen minutes), 1:19 to 1:27, and 1:34 to 1:53.
Be sure to watch the last time segment of Dr. Longo’s video if you watch nothing else. He has some remarkable video of the mobility of dendritic synapses.
You may also like to check out the following.
Do you have questions?
Please put your questions in the comment box or send them to me by email at DrReece@MedicalScienceNavigator.com. I read and reply to all comments and email.
If you find this article helpful share it with your fellow students or send it to your favorite social media site by clicking on one of the buttons below.
Margaret Thompson Reece PhD, physiologist, former Senior Scientist and Laboratory Director at academic medical centers in California, New York and Massachusetts and CSO at Serometrix LLC is now CEO at Reece Biomedical Consulting LLC.
Dr. Reece is passionate about helping students, online and in person, pursue careers in life sciences. Her books “Physiology: Custom-Designed Chemistry” (2012), “Inside the Closed World of the Brain” (2015) and upcoming “Step-by-step Guide for Study of Physiology” (2016) are written for those new to life science.
Dr. Reece offers a free 30 minute “how-to-get-started” phone conference to students struggling with human anatomy and physiology. Schedule an appointment by email at DrReece@MedicalScienceNavigator.com.by