Vitamin C and the link between sleep and memory

One of the hot topics in sleep research is the link between sleep and memory formation. Put simply, the sleeping brain enters into deep stages, during which the brain is able to quickly and efficiently pass around information without disruption (e.g., distractions that occur while awake). When an individual loses sleep, they miss out on these learning opportunities, and memory suffers. But can anything be done to restore memory formation after it is has been disrupted by a lack of sleep? A recent study found a common substance that seemed to block the chemical brain mechanisms that impair memory when an individual (in this case, a rodent) is sleep deprived.

The protocol went as follows: the animals first underwent a learning task that helped them develop spatial skills (this is a highly reproduced learning task in rats). They were then sleep deprived for an extended period of time. There were also some rodents who were not sleep deprived to serve as a control group. Importantly, half of the sleep-deprived rats were given Vitamin C – the same Vitamin C that you may take. Finally, the hippocampus, a brain region that we know to be necessary for memory formation, was removed from each animal and analyzed.

It was found that, not surprisingly, when comparing the control (not sleep deprived) rats with the sleep deprivation group, much more learning had occurred in the control group. What’s more, the control rats’ hippocampus showed normal biochemistry. Overall, sleep deprivation had worked, and the sleep-deprived rats did not learn.

However, when comparing the sleep-deprived non-Vitamin C rats with the sleep-deprived Vitamin C rats, it was a different story. Even though they had not slept and therefore should not have remembered the task, the rats given Vitamin C performed as well as the non-sleep deprived rat group. What’s more, sleep deprivation had protected the hippocampus from being damaged during sleep deprivation, which may have also protected the memory.

Even the ancients knew that sleep deprivation is detrimental for memory – it’s common sense. This study is imperative, in that it introduces something that may protect memory and protect the brain from the harms of sleep deprivation. If you are someone who suffers from sleep apnea, this should be exciting news. If your treatment (or your lack thereof) prevents you from getting a full night of sleep, you may be suffering from memory deficits. Although I’m in no position to suggest you take any medications, perhaps a little Vitamin C wouldn’t hurt!

Source: Mhaidat, N. M., Alzoubi, K. H., Khabour, O. F., Tashtoush, N. H., Banihani, S. A., & Abdul-razzak, K. K. (2015). Exploring the effect of vitamin C on sleep deprivation induced memory impairment. Brain research bulletin.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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