Offbeat Batter

When you’re asleep, how is your baseball game?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Every night, while we sleep, new memories from the day are thrown at our brains like baseballs from a pitcher’s mound. Our brainwaves swing at the perfect time to hit the save button. But there is a prime age for this game. Why?

Randolph Helfrich and colleagues from University of California, Berkeley looked into age-related memory loss. They asked young and old adults to memorize a hundred and twenty pairs of words. They then tested participants’ memories before and after one night’s sleep. While recording their brain activity, they witnessed a midnight playoff! It was between the pitcher and the batter, two distinctive brain waves during the sleep.

Turns out, it’s all about timing! In young adults, the batter swings in sync with the pitcher. Think home runs all night long! But as brains age, our batters lose reaction time, constantly swinging early. This mistiming in the elderly leads to the overnight forgetting rather than remembering.
But don’t worry. Researchers hope to boost our batters’ performance using electrical stimulation.

With a little buzz, they will be back in the game faster than you can say “Rip Van . .” wait a minute. What was his name again?