There has been a lot of conjecture on the role of sleep in memory formation and consolidation. New research indicates that – in animals at least – that sleep is crucial for consolidating memories at a biochemical level. Donald Clark is a big proponent of ‘spaced practice’ in learning – taking breaks for consolidation and optimal performance. Well, its official, take a break for a kip and you’ll do yourself right. Neuroscience gets better every day. Red wine, chocolate and now sleep helps learning performance.
“If you ever argued with your mother when she told you to get some sleep after studying for an exam instead of pulling an all-nighter, you owe her an apology, because it turns out she’s right. And now, scientists are beginning to understand why.
In research published this week in Neuron, Marcos Frank, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, postdoctoral researcher Sara Aton, PhD, and colleagues describe for the first time how cellular changes in the sleeping brain promote the formation of memories.
“This is the first real direct insight into how the brain, on a cellular level, changes the strength of its connections during sleep,” Frank says.
The findings, says Frank, reveal that the brain during sleep is fundamentally different from the brain during wakefulness.
“We find that the biochemical changes are simply not happening in the neurons of animals that are awake,” Frank says. “And when the animal goes to sleep it’s like you’ve thrown a switch, and all of a sudden, everything is turned on that’s necessary for making synaptic changes that form the basis of memory formation. It’s very striking.”
The team used an experimental model of cortical plasticity – the rearrangement of neural connections in response to life experiences. “That’s fundamentally what we think the machinery of memory is, the actual making and breaking of connections between neurons,” Frank explains
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