Sleep and Memory

Advice From US Memory Champion, Ron White

Advice From US Memory Champion, Ron White

Hey guys, Ron White here, the Memory Guy, and I want to talk to you today about probably one of the worst enemies for your memory, and that is sleep deprivation.

I was recently a keynote speaker at a conference in Denver, and the speaker who spoke before me was Dr. James Maas. He wrote this book, Sleep for Success, and I gotta be honest with you, when I heard this speaker who was talking before me, he was gonna be speaking for an hour and a half on sleep, I was like oh, my God, this is where I'm gonna catch up on my sleep. But it was one of the most fascinating talks I've ever heard and he stole the show.

I never really thought about it how much before, sleep affects every aspect of your life, especially memory though. And I should know this better than anyone. In 2010 when I was going to compete for my second win at the USA Memory Championship, the night before I got struck with the most terrible bout of insomnia. I could not sleep. I tried everything except sleep medication because I didn't want my head to be cloudy the next day.

So by 6AM frankly, I had just given up. Talked to my girlfriend on the phone and she gave me a pep talk and told me to go to sleep. And whatever she said must've worked because I went to sleep, and I slept for about 70 or 80 minutes, from 6 o'clock to about 7:10, 7:15, something like that. And then I went into a mental tournament against some very, very smart people with 70 minutes sleep.

I pulled out a win that year at the USA Memory Championship, but I don't know if I could do that again.

In this book here, Sleep for Success, Dr. James Maas says that a sleep deprived person, the person operating on less than eight hours sleep, the brain, their memory efficiency is 19% less, 19% less if you're sleep deprived.

He says no matter how smart you are, if you are sleeping less than eight hours a night, your brain is not going to be operating at its peak efficiency.

He goes on to say that a person who has had no sleep, their memory is operating on 50% less capabilities than a person who's well rested. In here he says that a person -- this is fascinating for me -- a person who has been awake for 17-18 hours, their brain is performing as if they have a blood alcohol content of .05, and I think you might know that .08 is legally drunk.

Sleep really affects your memory. I encourage you to get this book because he uses the fancy words that the PhD knows and can use. I'll tell you the simple layman's version though.

Basically, what he says in here is that you've got different parts of your brain, the hippocampus and the neocortex, and the first several hours of sleep your memories are kinda being laid down as permanent residence in your brain.

And the last two hours of sleep, from six to eight hours of sleep, in the REM sleep your mind keeps playing the memories over, and over, and over, and over again in your brain to make them solid.

In other words, what he says is if you learn something today and then you don't get at least eight hours of sleep a night, then tomorrow you're not gonna, it won't be, it won't be enforced into your long term memory.

In order for something to go into your long term memory you need to learn it today, then get eight hours of sleep tonight, and during that eight hours of sleep it will take on permanent residence in your brain.

And in the two hour window from six to eight hours it's gonna play it over and over in your REM sleep and make it permanent memory.

So not only is sleep important the night before a good test or you know, the night before you need to be on your game, a good night's sleep is also important the night after you learn something.

I never, I never knew that. I never realized that. And if I want to memorize something, memorize it then get a good night's sleep, and that will do much more for putting it in long term memory than most things can do.

Another good book I've recently read is Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer. He is the 2006 USA Memory Champion, and he talks about how before the 2006 USA Memory Championship he was also struck with bouts of insomnia. And he just got three hours of sleep or so and then he also went on to win the championship.

But insomnia is gonna strike you, not being able to sleep is gonna strike you whenever you're not relaxed. Right now I've got a song on my laptop and I'm gonna play it for you right here. And it's when I'm playing it, playing in my mind over and over again, Dierks Bentley, "free and easy down the road I go." Free and easy down the road I go.

That's the attitude I'm taking this week as I train for the next USA Memory Championship because I know if my brain is relaxed, free and easy down the road I go and I should be able to sleep.

Good tips on sleeping are having a regular bedtime, don't drink alcohol, although it will put you to sleep initially, it's actually gonna wake you up and keep you from getting into the deep rhythms of sleep. Alcohol is not good before you go to bed.

Sleep medication, that's also gonna keep you from getting into the sleep, the deep levels of sleep, so it's also good to avoid that.

My name is Ron White. I'm a two-time USA Memory Champion, going for a three-peat. And just wanna encourage you to get some sleep. It's one of the best things you can do for your memory. And for some great tips on sleep go to -- I get no, I don't get a penny if you buy this -- I just want you to do it because I want you to sleep, Sleep for Success, Dr. James Maas, and get the book, Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer. It talks about how he struggled with sleep, a little, it's not a big part of the book, but it might give you an idea about how a memory champion also struggles with sleep, and how sleep also affects your memory.

Ron White is the creator of the excellent Memory in a Month program I reviewed here a little while back. You can also check out his website here. — Word Buff

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