How sleep influences the memory and retention of professional dancers and athletes.

For professional dancers and athletes, sleep is not a luxury; it is a prerequisite for excellence. They must adhere to regular sleep patterns to keep their bodies fresh, energetic, and fit to meet strenuous performance requirements. Dancers have to pick up choreography swiftly and remember to perform each and every move, again and again, without fail. Athletes use their bodies as a tool for top performance. Sleep is a necessity, without which mental and physical systems cannot function optimally, argues Karlyn Grimes in Sleep Essentials.

Restoration of body tissues is not the only function of sleep. In sleep, the hippocampus which stores memory becomes very active. Short term memory is consolidated into long-term memory, according to Nancy Wozny. Bereft of proper sleep, these professionals would find it hard to retain focus and to remember the movements.

Memory is usually referred to as a single entity. It actually consists of two kinds, say neuroscientists. Declarative memory is used to remember data, names, facts, and the like. Non-declarative or procedural memory is non-conscious and is related to knowing how to do things. It is used to imbibe complex skills and includes implicit learning. Procedural memory helps us to play musical instruments, drive a car, perform dance and sports movements.

Motor skills can be classified as motor adaptation, and motor sequence learning skills. In practice, for performing movements, both systems are used. Gymnastics and ballet dancing require performance of a sequence of hand and leg movements, which have to be executed in the correct order. Further, the speed and velocity with which each limb is moved is also critical, while balance must be maintained at all times.

Slow wave sleep benefits declarative memory, while rapid eye movement (REM) sleep benefits procedural memory. Studies on animals have established that when physical tasks are performed, brain cells operate in a particular sequence. After learning a new movement, on sleeping, the cells fire in the same sequence without any external distraction. On waking, remembrance of the tasks performed is very clear. Sound sleep, prior to a learning session, also enhances comprehension.

Looking beyond traditional ways of thinking, it can be said that weaving adequate sleep periods into a training regimen helps to enhance the performance of a dancer or an athlete. Practising and sleeping is the modern mantra for a perfect performance.