A new study published in the journal Sleep, found that wearing an eye mask while sleeping improves an individual’s memory encoding. Wearing an eye mask to block out light while sleeping can boost cognitive function the next day.
The researchers discovered that participants who slept with an eye mask had improved episodic memory encoding. Also, improved alertness the next day in two studies. As sleep studies continue to show, adequate sleep is essential for the proper functioning of our brains and bodies. Too little or insufficient sleep, for example, can impair our attention during daily activities.
Ambient light has also been shown in studies to be a factor in interrupted sleep. The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the earth’s light-dark cycle, with morning sunshine alerting us to be aware and nighttime darkness directing us to sleep.
Nevertheless, sunlight is not the only source of light that can disrupt our sleep; ambient light sources such as streetlights and light from devices can also reach our retinas and disrupt our sleep.
“Coming to the United Kingdom meant I couldn’t sleep because houses in Cardiff don’t have shutters!” Viviana Greco, a PhD candidate at Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre and a freelance associate editor at Researcher, was the study’s lead author.
“The majority of residences in the Cardiff region simply have curtains, and even blackout curtains are insufficient to offer perfect darkness.”
“This was particularly problematic during the summer months when the sun rises as early as 4 a.m., making it difficult to sleep. We appreciate the importance of getting enough sleep as sleep scientists, and waking up at 4 a.m. every day was not ideal. We were intrigued by whether wearing an eye mask overnight to shut out ambient light could be a simple solution!”
Trials Carried Out
Greco and her colleagues carried out two trials. This is to investigate how wearing an eye mask that blocks out ambient light while sleeping can affect cognitive performance.
Greco and colleagues intended to investigate the effect of eye masks on ordinary sleep at home. This is while previous research has demonstrated that eye masks help improve sleep in intensive care units.
The initial study had a total of 89 subjects ranging in age from 18 to 35. The investigation lasted two weeks. Participants spent five nights sleeping in their homes while wearing an eye mask. This is during the experimental week, followed by 2 days of assessment.
During the control week, individuals slept at home for 5 nights without wearing an eye mask. This was followed by two days of testing. The researchers discovered that wearing the eye mask improved participants’ learning ability on a word-pair association task.
They also responded more quickly on a psychomotor vigilance test, which assessed behavioral alertness and sustained attention. This shows that the sleep mask improved episodic memory encoding and alertness.
A second investigation involved 33 people between the ages of 18 and 35. This time, participants slept with an eye mask for two nights (experimental protocol). Also, two nights with an eye mask with cutouts such that no cloth covered the eye region (control procedure).
Participants slept at home while wearing an EEG headband and a digital light meter on their pillows. This is to analyze their sleep stages.
The findings mirrored the finding from experiment 1, in which participants performed better on the paired associative learning test after wearing the eye mask. Surprisingly, participant sleep diaries revealed no differences in sleep hours or self-rated sleep quality between the eye mask and control settings.
The Outcome of the study on Eye Mask Improves Memory Encoding
Yet, the findings revealed that improved learning performance after wearing the mask was connected with more slow wave sleep time. Consequently, time spent in slow wave sleep predicted memory benefits after mask use.
Slow wave activity, according to the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, restores the brain’s ability. That is ability to encode new information by downscaling synapses that have been reinforced during the day. Since the researchers were unable to measure this, they believe the eye masks may have enhanced slow wave activity.
The results of the study have real-world consequences, according to the authors, especially because many common jobs, like driving a car, require us to stay aware and respond quickly.
“Wearing an eye mask overnight can be an effective and low-cost method for boosting and benefiting cognitive performance,” Greco explained.
“Our findings indicate that reaction times and memory performance have improved. The ramifications of our findings are substantial for many everyday tasks, such as driving a car, as well as any educational or cultural environment that involves learning.”
Memory Encoding and How It Works
Memory encoding is the act of converting information into a neural representation that may be stored in the memory systems of the brain. In other words, it is the process of transforming sensory input into information that may be stored in memory.
Encoding involves the processing and organization of information in such a way that it becomes meaningful and easier to remember. This procedure involves the activation of specific neuronal circuits in the brain, which results in the formation of new synaptic connections and the strengthening of existing ones.
A multitude of elements can influence memory encoding, including motivation, attention, emotion, and the individual’s cognitive capacity.
Once information has been encoded in memory, it can be retrieved and used whenever it is required. Memory retrieval entails retrieving the neuronal representation of previously encoded information and bringing it back into conscious awareness.
- What Diesel Exhaust Does to Human Brain, Study Warns
- Scientists Found Novel Solution That Lowers Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Memory Encoding Processes
The cognitive processes involved in the initial recording of information into memory are referred to as “memory encoding processes.” It is the process through which the brain converts sensory data (for example, visual and auditory) into a form that can be stored and retrieved later.
The encoding process consists of several steps, beginning with paying attention to the stimuli, then interpreting and analyzing them, and finally storing the information in long-term memory.
Many elements, such as the individual’s level of attention, interest, and emotional state at the time of encoding, influence the process.
There are various types of encoding processes, which include:
Semantic encoding is the processing of information’s meaning, which leads to improved memory retention.
Visual encoding is the processing of visual data such as images or shapes.
Acoustic encoding is the processing of auditory or sound information, such as words or music.
Tactile encoding is the process of processing information via touch, such as textures or temperatures.
Overall, memory encoding is an important process for forming new memories and is important in learning, decision-making, and daily functioning.