Jul 24 2014

Sleep and False Memory

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31 Responses to “Sleep and False Memory”

  1. Ori Vandewalleon 24 Jul 2014 at 9:32 am

    I know (or at least I think I know…) that poor memory and concentration are symptoms of depression. I also know that insomnia is a very common feature of depression. I wonder if the neurological deficits seen in depressed patients result purely from poor sleep or if they’re somehow more directly linked to the depression.

  2. Vendetta88on 24 Jul 2014 at 10:36 am

    Steve, when you say avoid napping do you mean completely or prolonged napping? I catch a 30 minute mid day nap at least every other day mid work shift. I had done some research on how to focus my concentration and improve my cognitive function during the post-lunch workday because caffeine really leaves me off balance. A 15-30 minute, and no longer, nap was a frequently and seemingly medically supported suggestion.

  3. Vendetta88on 24 Jul 2014 at 10:37 am

    And yes I make sure I get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.

  4. The Other John Mcon 24 Jul 2014 at 10:43 am

    Ori V, insomnia is a common feature of depression…and yet bizarrely, one of the most effective treatments for severe depression seems to be a night of total sleep deprivation:
    http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/mind-read/an_unconventional_release_from_depression

    I always found this to be completely odd. It makes me think: Wow we have a lot to learn.

  5. Bruceon 24 Jul 2014 at 10:50 am

    As a father of two children under two I can definitely say from personal experience that sleep deprivation has made my bad memory even worse… so much so I have had to implement formal task managment systems into parts of my life that I never would have before.

    Now I just have to remember to check them…

  6. Bruceon 24 Jul 2014 at 11:11 am

    The Other John Mc,

    That is interesting, but as one of the commenters pointed out there the long term effects of depriving yourself of sleep on a regular basis are not really recommended and might have even worse side effects.

  7. Stormbringeron 24 Jul 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Steve great article, thought you had covered this before but maybe a was just tired.

    I know I have a false memory from when I was a kid.
    At our one house we carpeted stairs and I used to take my nylon sleeping bag and slide down them. One time after a ride I has the sleeping bag over me going up for another run when the bag got between my foot and the step. I ended up on summersalting down the steps with my back hitting the file cabinet that was there. I attribute the brass pen holder with about 30 pens in it for driving that memory well into my head as it did likewise.
    That night I dreamed about the same event but I was standing any 15 feet away. The dream was vivid enough that if I didn’t have the sharp memory of me falling I would swear I was watching one of my sisters fall.

  8. The Other John Mcon 24 Jul 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Bruce, agreed and I wouldn’t ever think it would be recommendable as a regular treatment for that reason; instead only as a last-ditch effort for those battling severe depression.

    But the intriguing question is why the hell it (temporarily) works.

  9. Steven Novellaon 24 Jul 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Regarding napping, if you have good sleep at night, napping is no problem, and a power nap can improve function.

    But, if you have poor sleep, napping will tend to break up your sleep, preventing you from getting good sleep at night. As a general rule, you want to get most or all of your sleep at once, so that your brain goes through a normal sleep cycle, including the deepest stages of sleep. Napping can make it harder for people with insomnia to fall asleep or stay asleep.

  10. hardnoseon 24 Jul 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Our memories are “bad,” compared to what? A computer. Yes a computer can be programmed to remember every detail perfectly accurately, while normal humans can’t do that. Does that mean a computer’s memory is superior to ours?

    No, our memories are much more sophisticated and practical than a computer’s. The forgetting and distortions that normally occur are part of an optimizing process.

    I am not talking about people suffering from sleep deprivation or dementia, just the normal “inaccuracies” that all of us experience.

    Mainstream neuroscience and psychology, in general, say that our brains are the poorly designed result of a haphazard evolutionary process. So we should expect them to perform poorly when compared to carefully designed machines.

    Yes, a computer can remember enormous amounts of information with near perfect accuracy. But can it make sense of the information? No, we still have to interpret the data.

    There have been famous cases of people with perfect memories, but their perfect memories did not give them any advantage in reasoning, common sense or creativity. Just the opposite — remembering all those details tends to be overwhelming.

    Evolution has done an amazing job of “designing” our brains for surviving in this world. No, we aren’t great at remembering every irrelevant detail, but we are great at finding our way through the massively complex data of everyday life.

    “Skeptics” like to point out the supposed imperfections of our memory and reasoning abilities. They like to emphasize the need for controlled scientific experiments to guide all our decisions. They warn us that we can’t trust our personal experiences or common sense, or the experiences of others. It’s all distorted and incomplete.

    Well yes, it is distorted and incomplete, but NOT because we are poorly “designed.” Completeness and accuracy of perception are not possible in an infinitely complex world.

    We do our best, which is not so great but far better than any artificial machine.

    In early artificial intelligence research, this was called “satisficing.” Some AI researchers recognized from the beginning that perfect recall and logic would never lead to real intelligence.

    Too bad current mainstream science has forgotten, or never appreciated, that early insight.

  11. ConspicuousCarlon 24 Jul 2014 at 2:08 pm

    “Hardnose” is appallingly ridiculous.

  12. The Other John Mcon 24 Jul 2014 at 2:25 pm

    “mainstream science”, “mainstream medicine”, “conventional farming”…am I seeing a pattern?

  13. Steven Novellaon 24 Jul 2014 at 2:25 pm

    hardnose – I agree with your basic point, that our brains partly function the way they do because of adaptation. The errors and flaws in our memory are the price for being optimized for other adaptations. I would not make the hyperadaptationalist argument that this is the only reason – I think there are just limits to the system as well.

    I have never argued, and am not aware of anyone arguing, that the brain is “poorly designed,” so this is a strawman argument.

    With regard to the limitations of human memory, it doesn’t matter why those limitations are there. They are there none-the-less and we have to deal with them.

    One might say that, our brains are well adapted to our evolutionary environment, but not to a technologically advanced civilization.

    The comparison to AI is completely irrelevant to this discussion.

    Finally you ask “compared to what?” Compared to what most people assume about their own memories. People assume that if they have a vivid and confident memory, that is is likely to be accurate. Meanwhile the data shows the opposite – it is unlikely to be accurate.

    This has many real world implications, such as the weight placed on eyewitness testimony in courtrooms.

  14. NorEasternon 24 Jul 2014 at 3:14 pm

    An interesting question certainly; Does napping reduce your total nighttime sleep requirement? I have a simple rule of thumb here. If you are a person who dreams during a nap and you wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed, then naps are probably part of your needed sleep requirement. Otherwise no. Sample size 1.

    Genetics probably plays a major role in how much sleep you need. My father probably never slept more than five hours. I however need 7.5 hours. My sister is fine with six hours. Sleep requirements are probably dependent on percentage of REM sleep time, waste removal efficiency of the physiological pathways of brain cells and other unknown factors.

    Calculating how much sleep you need is fairly straightforward. Given an individual who has a fairly static intake of nutrients (and yes alcohol counts), a fairly regular level of stress, how does your amount of sleep correlate to your performance?

  15. hardnoseon 24 Jul 2014 at 4:17 pm

    “One might say that, our brains are well adapted to our evolutionary environment, but not to a technologically advanced civilization.”

    Ok, maybe I agree with that. Our technologically advanced civilization is pretty hard on us, in various ways.

    Still, our social environments have always been extremely complex, and our memories are well adapted to dealing with social interactions.

    No, we are definitely not adapted for testifying in court. Video cameras are much better at that.

  16. tmac57on 24 Jul 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Still, our social environments have always been extremely complex, and our memories are well adapted to dealing with social interactions.

    Tell that to a marriage counselor who has to deal with endless ‘he said’ ‘she said’ arguments and perceptions/misperceptions that have their roots in poor memory,aggravated by motivated reasoning,cognitive bias et al. I
    I think it is instructive to see the endless lies told by talking heads every day in the media,only to be picked up by fact checking media who show with video,and other checkable sources that those people are wrong. Are they wrong because they are liars,and motivated by politics and dogma? Or are they just displaying that they heard what they wanted to hear,and got their ‘facts’ wrong? Most likely,a combination of both,since most of us do not like to be proven blatantly wrong in full view of an audience of millions.
    Those are social environments…tell me if you have never been affected by those types of situations or similar. Our memories are well adapted to making sense of our personal world,not always well adapted to interacting with others. That’s where the social convention of agreeing to disagree helps to fill the gaps,and vehement argument often results from failures.

  17. Teaseron 24 Jul 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Dr William C Dement – Sleep expert. The web page is a vast resource on sleep.
    http://www.end-your-sleep-deprivation.com/

    The Epworth Sleepiness Scale – Test how sleepy you are.
    http://web.stanford.edu/~dement/epworth.html

    He is famous for declaring “Drowsiness Is Red Alert!!!” His class at Stanford is a must for undergrads.

  18. hardnoseon 25 Jul 2014 at 9:15 am

    “Our memories are well adapted to making sense of our personal world,not always well adapted to interacting with others.”

    We evolved to live in small groups, like most other social mammals. Even then, social relations were extremely complex. Now our “tribes” are huge and the complexity is unmanageable.

  19. dohron 25 Jul 2014 at 10:06 am

    Is this suggesting that none of our memories are accurate enough to be recalled and relied upon, or that only partial details of our memories are distorted? Would these studies be different if the amount of sleep the subjects get is increased? Is there a certain type of person who may be more susceptible to the suggestion of others changing their memory of an event?

  20. Vendetta88on 25 Jul 2014 at 11:40 am

    Thanks for clarification on napping Steve.

  21. BillyJoe7on 26 Jul 2014 at 2:04 am

    Noreastern,

    “Does napping reduce your total nighttime sleep requirement? I have a simple rule of thumb here. If you are a person who dreams during a nap and you wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed, then naps are probably part of your needed sleep requirement. Otherwise no. Sample size 1″

    By trial and error, I have concluded that I operate optimally on 51/2 to 6 hours of sleep per night provided I supplement this with a mid afternoon 15-20 minute nap. Without the nap, I struggle through the afternoon and evening. (I am self-employed so I am free to organise my own time. I usually have lunch at about 2-2:30pm followed by that 15-20 minute nap).

  22. ccbowerson 27 Jul 2014 at 1:19 pm

    “Finally you ask “compared to what?” Compared to what most people assume about their own memories. People assume that if they have a vivid and confident memory, that is is likely to be accurate. Meanwhile the data shows the opposite – it is unlikely to be accurate.”

    I actually sympathized with ‘some’ of what hardnose wrote… I must be sleep deprived. I occasionally come across skeptical arguments that overemphasize the imperfect memory idea to the point that the argument is that our memories approach uselessness.

    But I agree that by far the bigger problem is the general public perception of memory being like an accurate documentation or tape recorder of events. I’m actually surprised that you would respond “No you don’t.” Given that most people have a poor understanding of memory, many will be offended that your are doubting them, personally.

    I do wish that the constructive aspects of memory were more widely understood, since it seems pretty obvious from life experience. I think I realize this as a teenager, when someone asked me about my earliest memories, and I realize that all of those “memories” were really reconstructions from childhood pictures. I thought: ‘How can I being seeing myself in my own memories?’

  23. ccbowerson 27 Jul 2014 at 1:27 pm

    “By trial and error, I have concluded that I operate optimally on 51/2 to 6 hours of sleep per night provided I supplement this with a mid afternoon 15-20 minute nap”

    Trial and error is probably the only way most people will find out. Sleeping 5.5-6 hours is pretty low compared to what is optimal most people, but people vary and most do need less sleep as they get older (I’m not implying anything there – I do not know your age). I do not nap, because it doesn’t fit into my life schedule, but I could… I rarely have trouble falling asleep at night- maybe twice a year.

    I agree with Steve that napping can be beneficial or a barrier to good sleep, depending on the person and their sleeping habits and needs.

  24. ccbowerson 27 Jul 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Once in a while I will make a quick decision that is not thought through, and some will ask me why I did that action. I will then come up with a post hoc explanation (that to me I am uncertain if I am making it up), that turns out to be true or at least more reasonable than I thought originally.

    I’m still not sure if my quick decision happens to be lucky with its shorcuts, or if that in quick decisions I am assimlating more information than I could possibly be aware of at that speed, and my slow deliberative part of my brain just catches up later.

  25. grabulaon 27 Jul 2014 at 10:13 pm

    @hardnose

    “So we should expect them to perform poorly when compared to carefully designed machines.”

    Who’s comparing our brains directly to machines. It’s sometimes a comparison that is made but the crux of your argument seems to be this and I’m not seeing it supporting your argument. This article is about sleep deprivation and its effect on our memory. Strawman building does not suit someone with a scientific background hardnose…

    ““Skeptics” like to point out the supposed imperfections of our memory and reasoning abilities”

    Using the word skeptics in scare quotes is also ridiculous hardnose. You’re implication here is anyone who questions anything is somehow in the wrong. Wouldn’t this also include you?

    “They like to emphasize the need for controlled scientific experiments to guide all our decisions.”

    Another strawman. Science needs controlled scientific experiments to gather data and knowledge. No one ever has claimed we need this to guide our decisions. Making decisions based on rational thinking is not regardless of your opinion, a bad thing.

    “Well yes, it is distorted and incomplete, but NOT because we are poorly “designed.” Completeness and accuracy of perception are not possible in an infinitely complex world.”

    What does this statement even mean? We are “poorly” put together, BECAUSE we aren’t’ designed. We evolved for specific environments, reactions and ways of working out the environment around us that isn’t always conducive to comprehending what is ACTUALLY going on around us. This makes us well designed for survival and propagation of the species but it doesn’t make us necessarily the best at understanding our world, specifically just based off ‘gut feeling’. ‘infinitely complex world’ is a ridiculously vacuous statement designed to allow for any kind of magic you want to ascribe to.

  26. grabulaon 27 Jul 2014 at 10:13 pm

    @ccbowers

    ” I occasionally come across skeptical arguments that overemphasize the imperfect memory idea to the point that the argument is that our memories approach uselessness. ”

    It’s about context. When moving through your day to day life, your memory works perfectly fine. However when it comes down to determining guilt or innocence or anything that might be terribly important to you, or someone else, it’s not reliable enough to make it useful.

    I have an anecdotal example of memory working in weird ways. when I was younger my grandmother bought me a beat up space shuttle model at a garage sale. It was in pretty bad shape but I loved that toy. Eventually it just fell apart under my constant attention and so disappeared. Years later I had a dream I found it in a box in storage. To this day that memory occasionally pops up and I have an overwhelming urge to sift through boxes of stuff to try to find that toy.

  27. BillyJoe7on 28 Jul 2014 at 8:27 am

    ccbower,

    “Sleeping 5.5-6 hours is pretty low compared to what is optimal most people”

    I have found 51/2 to 6 hours optimal compared with the average is about 7 to 8 hours.
    The other thing I discovered a long time ago is that, if I exercise regularly, I need less sleep. Many years ago I suffered from back pain which lasted just over one year. I could not exercise, I put on weight, and I became very unfit. In those circumstances, I found I required 7 to 71/2 hours sleep. So the hours I now save not sleeping I use up doing exercise! Aslo, unlike most people I know, I really enjoy exercising. I spend over an hour every week day and several hours every Sunday morning (in the local hills) cycling, walking or running.

    “I rarely have trouble falling asleep at night- maybe twice a year”

    Same here. However, if anything wakes me during the night I just cannot get back to sleep.
    The only time I have suffered insomnia was during that year of back pain. It completely ruined two Summer holidays. The only position I found comfortable was standing. Sitting and lying down were miserable. I truly empathise with people with back pain. I have no idea why mine resolved. It used to fluctuate up and down and, on one occasion when it fluctuated downwards, it just kept getting better and resolved over a period of only a few weeks.

    …anyway, enough of anecdotes (:

  28. bruno70on 07 Aug 2014 at 4:50 am

    “Skeptics” like to point out the supposed imperfections of our memory and reasoning abilities. They like to emphasize the need for controlled scientific experiments to guide all our decisions. They warn us that we can’t trust our personal experiences or common sense, or the experiences of others. It’s all distorted and incomplete.

    I agree with you hardnose. Interesting if our memories are so imperfect what makes the skeptoids memories any different.

    Not trusting our own personal experiences or common sense according to the skeptoids makes rastionality a numbers game. Mob mentality over individual perception.

    Leonardo said lucidly “Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.
    Leonardo da Vinci

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/leonardo_da_vinci_2.html#Z6YyFdh7zUp6fDxy.99

  29. grabulaon 07 Aug 2014 at 5:14 am

    @bruno70

    I’m going to do you a favor and go ahead and break down where you went wrong.

    “Skeptics”

    Anytime you include your target audience in scare quotes because you don’t like the way they do things, you are already losing the argument. It shows you don’t have enough sense to understand the word, much less the people who fall under that label.

    “They like to emphasize the need for controlled scientific experiments to guide all our decisions. They warn us that we can’t trust our personal experiences or common sense, or the experiences of others. It’s all distorted and incomplete.”

    See, there you went right! You got it! Our memories are horrible! They work in just the right way to help us survive in a crazy world but they don’t always interpret reality the best or help to recall information, especially when we’re not really trying to remember it.

    “I agree with you hardnose.”

    Doh, wrong again! hardnose is notoriously wrong about a lot of things, I’d stay away from agreeing with him if you want to be taken seriously.

    “what makes the skeptoids memories any different.”

    It doesn’t! That’s where you also went wrong, you built a strawman! I’ve never met a skeptic who claimed their memory or minds were better than others, have you? Certainly not here.

    “Not trusting our own personal experiences or common sense according to the skeptoids makes rastionality a numbers game.”

    AHA! I see what you did there, you replaced a funny little variation on skeptic instead of using scare quotes! Still wrong though, ad hominems are the easiest fallacies to spot! Of course we trust our experiences to a certain degree but the human mind is capable, but not as capable as we like of recall or rationality. Science has shown us this time and time again! (exciting isn’t it?)

    “Mob mentality over individual perception.”

    A classic! Also wrong! See the implication here is that we’re all in lockstep with the status quo, or ‘Big Everything’ and you’re just the lone rogue out there thinking outside the box! You’re open minded and we sheep like skeptics just believe what we’re told. Shows a profound misunderstanding of what skepticism is, but it’s a common mistake amongst woo believers.

    “Leonardo said lucidly “Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.
    Leonardo da Vinci”

    An appeal to authority about appealing to authority! Seriously though, picking out good quotes to make yourself feel all warm and fuzzy and about your misguided views only works if it’s really applicable. Building a strawman, or probably several since this quote elegantly fits into your skewed view of reality! Great Job!

    Hold on Bruno70, we’ll get through this, you and I with just a little effort, I promise!

  30. Bruceon 07 Aug 2014 at 5:25 am

    Bruno,

    I am not sure the Leonardo quote is supporting your view… he says outright that an appeal to authority is not using your intelligence, it is just using memory. So, you would rather use memory than intelligence?

    Can you tell me exactly how many steps you took take to go from your bed to your car or bus stop ot train stop or even directly to work every morning? I propose two methods, one is you remember how many you take (surely, if our memories are as flawless as you seem to be proposing it should be a number you know right away by simply counting through the memory of your journey to work every day), the other is you do an “experiment” (scare quotes because it is all “sciencey”) and tomorrow morning you count the number.

    Which will give you a more accurate figure?

  31. midnightrunner2014on 10 Aug 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Steven in reply to your comment:

    “I have never argued, and am not aware of anyone arguing, that the brain is “poorly designed,” so this is a strawman argument.”

    There is a very interesting book entitled “The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God” by the neuroscientist David J. Linden.

    In the book he has two chapter’s entitled “The Inelegant Design of the Brain” “The Unintelligent Design of the Brain”. According to a review of his book:

    “The first chapter, “The Inelegant Design of the Brain”, discusses what he considers a sloppy design of the human brain and tries to disprove previously held assumptions that the brain is well engineered. He spends a considerable amount of time explaining basic brain anatomy and physiology.”

    However, the reviewer also notes:

    “Unfortunately, there is not much about evolutionary neuroscience. For instance, he covers a great deal of mammalian brain evolution, calling its design “unintelligent,” but fails to cite recent research evidence to support his argument. Although Linden is very persuasive in his arguments, I was not very convinced about his conclusions regarding the flawed design of our brains. That could be a flawed argument because we are still experiencing an avalanche of research efforts aimed toward deciphering fine details of how the brain works. In addition, there is no connection between his argument of a flawed brain design and why there is so much interest in developing robots that try to imitate the human brain. The human brain must not be so flawed then, I would argue.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2262116/

    Have you read this book? I would like to see any comments you may have about it? What do you think about Linden’s comments about the brain being poorly designed?

    Thanks.

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