Maybe sleeping should be encouraged in class; it’s been found that the brain is working hard when we’re napping, making connections that play an important role in the formation and retention of new memories.
The process of memory consolidation is associated with sudden bursts of brain activity, called sleep spindles.
Sleep spindles are half-second to two-second bursts of brain activity, measured in the 10-16 Hertz range on an EEG. They occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep stages two and three. Earlier studies had shown that the number of spindles during the night could predict a person's memory the next day.
Studies in animals also linked sleep spindles to the process by which the brain makes new connections. But many questions about the link between sleep spindles and reactivated memories during sleep remained.
Researchers writing in Current Biology have found that sleep spindles also play a role in strengthening new memories when newly learned information is played back to a person as they sleep.
The findings provide new insight into the process of memory consolidation during sleep. They may also suggest new ways to help people remember things better, according to the researchers.
"While it has been shown previously that targeted memory reactivation can boost memory consolidation during sleep, we now show that sleep spindles might represent the key underlying mechanism," says Bernhard Staresina of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
"Thus, direct induction of sleep spindles – for example, via transcranial electrical stimulation – perhaps combined with targeted memory reactivation, may enable us to further improve memory performance while we sleep."
Staresina along with Scott Cairney at the University of York, UK, suspected that experimental reactivation of memories might lead to a surge of sleep spindles in a sleeping person's brain.
To find out, they devised an experiment in which people learned to associate particular adjectives with particular objects and scenes. Some study participants then took a 90-minute nap after their study session, whereas others stayed awake. While people napped, the researchers cued those associative memories and unfamiliar adjectives.
As expected, the researchers saw that memory cues led to an increase in sleep spindles. Interestingly, the EEG patterns during spindles enabled the researchers to discern what types of memories – objects or scenes – were being processed.
"Our data suggest that spindles facilitate processing of relevant memory features during sleep and that this process boosts memory consolidation," Staresina says.
This new understanding of the way the brain normally processes and strengthens memories during sleep may help to explain how that process may go wrong in people with learning difficulties, according to the researchers. It might also lead to the development of effective interventions designed to boost memory for important information.
Year 12 is both a start and an ending and this period of change can be stressful. But there is help available if kids seem to be struggling with their mental health.
There are a few anxious school leavers right now, maybe they didn't get the ATAR they needed for the course they wanted or maybe they didn’t pass at all, but fear not there is more than one way to skin a cat. Read More
Located on the Victoria-New South Wales (NSW) border, Wodonga Middle Years College (WMYC) has leveraged technology so every student can access education from anywhere at any time. Read More
The 2018 national winners of the Young ICT Explorers competition have been announced with teams from Queensland and Australian Capital Territory taking home the top prizes. Read More