Reactivate if you want to remember


We know sleep helps consolidate memories. Now a new study sheds light on how your sleeping brain decides what’s worth keeping. The study found that when the information that makes up a memory has a high value—associated with, for example, making more money—the memory is more likely to be rehearsed and consolidated during sleep.

The study involved 60 young adults who learned the unique locations of 72 objects on a screen while hearing characteristic object sounds. Each object was assigned a value indicating the reward that could be earned if remembered later. Recall was tested 45 minutes later, followed by a 90 minute break, during which participants either slept or remained awake. In the sleep condition, low-intensity white noise was played to mask any external sounds. In one condition, 18 of the sound cues associated with low-value objects were also repeatedly presented during the sleep period. In the wake condition, participants either watched a movie or performed a difficult working memory task (during which the sound cues were similarly sometimes presented in the background).

For all groups, at the first memory test, recall accuracy was significantly lower for low-value items compared to high-value (there was not, unsurprisingly, any difference between the groups). But let’s get to the important results. After sleep, in the absence of sound reminders, accuracy declined significantly more for low-value objects than for high-value objects. However, when sound cues had been played during sleep (although participants had no awareness of them), low-value objects were not differentially disadvantaged.

Interestingly, the sound reminders benefited not only those low-value objects which were cued, but all the low-value objects.  But, in the wake condition, when sound cues had been softly played in the background, only those objects which had been cued benefited from the reminders.

Also interestingly, two participants who heard the cues during stage 2 sleep rather than slow-wave sleep received the least benefit.

What all this suggests is that covert reactivation may be a major factor in determining what gets chosen for consolidation, and wake and sleep reactivation might play distinct roles in this process - the former helping to strengthen individual, salient memories, and the latter strengthening, while also linking togther, categorically related memories.

The findings provide more weight to the idea that I have propounded before — that it’s worth consciously reviewing the day's memories that you want to keep, just before going to sleep.

[3381] Oudiette, D., Antony J. W., Creery J. D., & Paller K. A.
(2013).  The Role of Memory Reactivation during Wakefulness and Sleep in Determining Which Memories Endure.
The Journal of Neuroscience. 33(15), 6672 - 6678.

Related News

A study involving epilepsy patients who had electrodes implanted into their brain has revealed that memory

A laboratory study has found that sleeping after watching a trauma event reduced emotional distress and memories related to traumatic events. The laboratory study involved 65 women being shown a neutral and a traumatic video.

Sleep, as I have said on many occasions, helps your brain consolidate new memories. I have reported before on a number of studies showing how sleep helps the learning of various types of new information.

This sounds like pseudoscience, but it appears in Journal of Neuroscience, so … Weirdly, a rat study has found that sleeping on the side (the most common posture for humans and other animals) is the best position for efficiently removing waste from the brain.

Recent research has suggested that sleep problems might be a risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s, and in mild cognitive impairment.

Because sleep is so important for memory and learning (and gathering evidence suggests sleep problems may play a significant role in age-related cognitive impairment), I thought I’d make quick note of a recent review bringing together all research on the immediate effects of alcohol on the sleep

Back in 2010, I briefly reported on a study suggesting that a few minutes of ‘quiet time’ could help you consolidate new information. A new study provides more support for this idea.

Back when I was young, sleep learning was a popular idea. The idea was that a tape would play while you were asleep, and learning would seep into your brain effortlessly. It was particularly advocated for language learning.

We know that we remember more 12 hours after learning if we have slept during that 12 hours rather than been awake throughout, but is this because sleep is actively helping us remember, or because being awake makes it harder to remember (because of interference and over-writing from other experi

Previous research has shown that negative objects and events are preferentially consolidated in sleep — if you experience them in the evening, you are more likely to remember them than more neutral objects or events, but if you experience them in the morning, they are not more likely to be remem


Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news