How sleep benefits memory

catching a wink

Identical brain mechanisms are responsible for triggering memory in both sleep and wakefulness, new research at the University of Birmingham has shown. The study sheds new light on the processes used by the brain to ‘reactivate’ memories during sleep, consolidating them so they can be retrieved later.

In this study, published in Cell Reports, scientists have been able to show for the first time in humans that distinctive neural patterns in the brain which are triggered when remembering specific memories while awake, reappear during subsequent sleep. 

Gaining a more sophisticated understanding of these mechanisms also enhances our understanding of how memories are formed. This could ultimately help scientists unravel the foundations of memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s and lead to the development of memory boosting interventions.

Working in partnership with researchers at the Donders Institute, in Holland, the team used a technique called Targeted Memory Reactivation, which is known to enhance memory. In the experiment, previously learned information – in this case foreign vocabulary – is played back to a person while asleep.

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