Memories Can Be Reactivated During Sleep, New Research Says

By Sharon Moore on October 26, 2018

Are you trying to familiarise yourself on learning a new melody? Why not try playing it over again as you sleep? Based on a new study, you may strengthen your memories during sleep.

A group of researchers from the Northwestern University conducted a study whereby they measured how well the participants remembered a tune when it is played while asleep. The results show that during sleep, memories can be reactivated, strengthening the said process.

During the study, participants learned how to play two musical tunes which were artificially generated using well-timed key presses. While all of them practised how to play the tunes, only one was presented as they take a 90-minute nap. Then, the researchers record the brain’s electrical activity using EEG to ensure that the soft musical cues were played during slow-wave sleep – also known as deep sleep which is the stage linked to cementing memories.

The participants were asked to play the tunes to determine how well they remembered it. Surprisingly, participants only made a few errors on the musical tune that was played when they were asleep compared to the other one which was not presented.

Strengthening Memories while Asleep

The findings support previous scientific evidence that external stimulation during sleep can influence learning a complex skill, explained Ken A. Paller, the senior study author and a professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

The researchers also found that electrophysiological signals are linked to memory improvement.  "These signals may thus be measuring the brain events that produce memory improvement during sleep" said James Antony, lead author from the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Northwestern.

They are also looking at the possibility of devising a new strategy that will help people learn a foreign language. The only difference is that, according to Paul J. Reber - associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and study co-author, their research showed how memory can be strengthened for something one has already learned, and not something that is ought to be learned.

The researchers are now thinking about how their findings can be applied to many other types of learning. Furthermore, the study might also help them learn more about the basic mechanisms that happen in the brain while a person is asleep and what actually happens that help preserve memory.

Paller pointed out that these mechanisms may not only allow more memories to be maintained throughout a person’s life, but may also allow memory stage to be enhanced by generating connections between memories.

Their findings could also lead to future studies on how memory-processing while asleep can be used to various types of behaviours and motor skills.

Source of this article:

Northwestern University

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