Newswise — The New Year ushers in a time of new beginnings and renewed commitment to our goals. While many of us aspire to exercise more or explore a new hobby, for the one in three Americans who are sleep deprived, getting seven to eight hours of sleep daily should be top priority.

“Sleep deprivation can lead to a whole host of problems,” says neuroscientist Jennifer Choi Tudor, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “It can affect your metabolism, processing waste and gene expression. But my research shows that, of particular importance, sleep deprivation impairs the critical process to make proteins necessary to form memories.”

Tudor’s research compared the brain function of both sleep-deprived and well-rested lab mice, and found significant memory deficits in mice with just five hours of sleep deprivation — the equivalent of staying up until 3 a.m. in someone that normally goes to sleep around 11 p.m.

For many working people, college students and parents, staying up that late is commonplace. However, her study shows that lack of sleep makes it more difficult to form new memories or for long-term recollection of information.

For anyone striving to begin 2018 with stronger sleep habits (and a better memory), Tudor encourages following conventional wisdom.

“Go to bed early and wake up early,” says Tudor. “There are very, very few sleepers that can function at one hundred percent on, say, four or five hours per night. Anytime a student tells me they don’t need the full eight hours, I expect that’s not true; they would probably function better with more sleep.”

Not only is the right amount of sleep necessary, but the timing of that sleep is crucial. Tudor encourages that sleep align with a daylight schedule: wakefulness during the daytime hours and sleep when it’s dark.

“Get as much bright sunlight as you can,” she adds.

Tudor’s work in the field of sleep deprivation and memory earned her an Outstanding Early Investigator Award Honorable Mention from the Sleep Research Society. She will discuss her research more thoroughly in the first episode of Good to Know, the Saint Joseph’s University Experts Podcast, available Wednesday, Jan. 17.