I sleep so deeply that I once used an alarm clock that would vibrate my bed to wake me up. (It made the most jarringly loud noise, too, much to my roommate's chagrin.) Since college, I've gone from sleeping fine to not sleeping at all to taking hours to fall under, only to fall so deeply, it messes with my day-to-day happenings once I eventually wake up. That's poor form, especially when it comes to remembering your to-dos and staying organized and on it. Coffee, after all, can only wake you up so much.
Sleep, however, wasn't the first thing I thought of when it came to soul searching for the reasons why my memory as of late was so splotchy. I thought a handful of things, including age, could be the source of my frustrations. "Well, are you getting enough sleep?" a friend asked. The answer, of course, was no, because New York City thrives on tireless workers grinding to achieve their dreams. My friend suggested putting effort into resting. (The irony of that last statement does not escape me.)
Coincidentally, I had recently upgraded my bed to a memory foam mattress after years slept on a mid-range IKEA mattress complete with one of those yellow egg carton toppers and a firmer pillow topper for good measure. Let's put the memory in memory foam, I said to myself and decided to make a brain test. The goal was to improve my memory function by: (a) getting a good amount of hours of sleep a night (my goal was six) and (b) reading a chapter in a book before hitting the lights and seeing if I was able to write about what had happened in the story when I woke up without referencing the material.
A little digging into the world of science journals led me to understand that sleep is vital in memory-making and memory-forgetting. In 2014, researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School used mice to determine what happens to memories in a sleeping mind. In the study published in the Science journal, NYU's professor Wen-Biao Gan found that sleeping mice replay a day's worth of events in their minds and promote new connections between neurons, the cells that transmit information. Those connections are what help formulate memories. What's more, the sleeping brain doesn't just form new memories, it trims experiences down to what's necessary.
University of Wisconsin-Madison biologists Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli, along with assistant Luisa de Vivo, discovered that the brain refines memories during sleep, sifting through context clues to get rid of the fluff. They placed mice in a small room where a shock pad was on the floor. That evening, a select number of mice's brains were injected with a chemical that has been known to block the neuron trimming process. The mice were then placed in a similar but different tiny room the next day after sleep. The non-injected mice roamed the space fine while those what had been injected froze up, remembering only the shock and not the space it occurred in. Sleep, then, helps consolidate what's important. Cool.
Back to me! The memory foam mattress proved to be a success. "Every time we add an hour of sleep at night, we’re adding more benefits to the type of productivity that you have," says Jack Dell'Accio, the CEO and founder of Essentia, the makers of my mattress. With Essentia, Dell'Accio created a certified organic mattress that also promotes healthy, restful sleep. "We really took it to a different level in trying to extend REM sleep and the number of time people sleep." He tells me the goal of any mattress is to create the best environment for a resting body to thrive, which includes eliminating toxins and other materials from your environment. His mattresses are free of those stimulants, making better sleep possible. At least, it has for me and my recollection of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
Björn Rasch and Jan Born write in American Psychological Society study, "About Sleep's Role in Memory," "The sleeping brain provides optimal conditions for consolidation processes that integrate newly encoded memory into a long-term store." Basically, sleep is when your memories are truly made. Any interruptions or poor conditions, like a wonky mattress, can prevent them from forming. So say yes to the good mattress. Your hindsight will thank you.