How good is your memory? The benefit of sleep, in terms of learning and memory, shows in our productivity at work, our motivation and discipline in reaching our goals. You may already know that getting a good night’s sleep can improve your memory and help you think more clearly. Conversely, when sleep deprivation sets in, so does memory loss. 

But do you know why sleep and memory go hand in hand? Keep reading to learn more about how sleep can improve your memory. 

The Connection Between Sleep, Learning and Memory

As a hypnotherapist, over the years many people have come to me for sleep self-hypnosis as well as hypnosis to help them remember distant memories or to find lost things. I’ve thought a lot about the connections between sleep and memory and hypnosis in the context of figuring out how to support people. A key to my success comes from understanding how each of these things – hypnosis, sleep and memory – works.  

The Receptive Phase of the Memory Function: Encoding Information

During our waking lives, we take in a lot of information. We encode this information in different areas of our brains and bodies. While we encode informative experiences, we organize that data to make it stable so that it starts to make sense to us. This first stage of memory function can be called the “acquisition” or receptive phase.

The Consolidation Phase of Memory Function: Sleep Learning and Memory

A benefit of sleep occurs when those initial memories shift into the second phase, which occurs while we move through the different stages of sleep. During sleep, those memories go into the phase called, “consolidation.” In other words, we take the information that we gathered while awake and integrate it in our brains like putting data into folders and filing those folders away. 

Without this consolidation of memory that happens during sleep, we would forget the material that we took in during the day. Sleep and memory work together by cementing the new experiences and perceptions from the day into the information we previously stored in those folders in our brains.

Different kinds of memories consolidate during different stages of sleep. For example, REM sleep (when we dream) and slow wave sleep (when we rest most deeply) actively help the brain organize those memories. Interestingly, brain scans have shown that hypnosis activates the same brain waves as in that slow wave sleep. Additionally, researchers have found that hypnosis increases slow wave sleep showing that hypnosis can help people get the same benefit of sleep that’s of higher and deeper quality. 

Recall Phase of Memory Function: Remembering Information That’s Stored

Once sleep and memory complete their work together, memory moves into a third phase: “recall.” After we wake up, we remember those past experiences and information. In other words, we recall them.

To summarize:

  • We take in and acquire information while awake. 
  • Then we integrate and organize that information in the context of everything else we know by consolidating it while we sleep. 
  • Finally, we recall that material, after we wake up. 

Why Memory is Always Changing 

Now think about this: we receive information, then consolidate, then recall BUT when we ultimately recall those integrated memories, we are receiving those memories all over again! This means that each time we recall a memory, rather than remembering it from its original experience or form, instead we actually remember a modified version of it.  

We remember a memory instead of the original thing! Each time we recall it, we go through this same process again and again, changing things slightly as we go. Think of it like an update of an app after the operating system has changed and updated. So maintaining a healthy operating system allows the app to run most smoothly and efficiently!

All of this highlights the benefit of sleep for preserving the most accurate memories possible, supporting learning and for good, rational thinking. As a therapist, I am consistently aware of how much our family histories, previous experiences and beliefs influence the ways that we perceive and remember things. However, high-quality sleep dramatically improves our abilities to learn, consolidate that learning and think clearly about what makes sense. 

This points to the importance of prioritizing good sleep because sleep heavily influences how we perceive the world and remember our experiences. Our lives depend on the healthiest sleep possible.

So, how good is your memory? The better question may be, how good is your sleep?

Blog previously posted on on October 14, 2020

Featured image by zasabe for adobe


  • Dyan Haspel-Johnson, Ph.D., S.E.P.®

    Psychologist & Hypnosis Expert

    Thrive Global

    Dr. Dyan Haspel-Johnson runs a private psychological and hypnotherapy practice with a specialty in hypnosis for sleep and other mind-body-spirit modalities. After receiving her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Dyan earned her Ph.D. in psychology while working in a physician's holistic medical practice. Her creative and science based backgrounds inspire Dr. Dyan's unique way of thinking about healing. Her approach led her to become the Vice President of Continuing Education Programs for the Southern California Society for Clinical Hypnosis, and then to become President of that organization while also teaching at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and lecturing at many other institutions. Dr. Dyan's expertise with sleep, and the demand in her practice to help people to sleep better motivated Dr. Dyan to make the complimentary, downloadable eBook and video, "The 3 Biggest Things That Cause Sleep Problems & The ONE Thing You Can Do by 3pm Today to Sleep Better." She has also created the Deep & Easy Sleep Self-Hypnosis Package, available through her website.