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Stress. 2008 Jan;11(1):28-41. Epub 2007 Jul 20.

Memory consolidation during sleep: interactive effects of sleep stages and HPA regulation.

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Department of Neuroendocrinology, University of Lubeck, Lubeck, Germany.


Sleep is critically involved in the consolidation of previously acquired memory traces. However, nocturnal sleep is not uniform but is subject to distinct changes in electrophysiological and neuroendocrine activity. Specifically, the first half of the night is dominated by slow wave sleep (SWS), whereas rapid eye movement (REM) sleep prevails in the second half. Concomitantly, hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity as indicated by cortisol release is suppressed to a minimum during early sleep, while drastically increasing during late sleep. We have shown that the different sleep stages and the concomitant glucocorticoid release are interactively involved in the consolidation of different types of memories. SWS-rich early sleep has been demonstrated to benefit mainly the consolidation of hippocampus-dependent declarative memories (i.e. facts and episodes). In contrast, REM sleep-rich late sleep was shown to improve in particular emotional memories involving amygdalar function, as well as procedural memories (for skills) not depending on hippocampal or amygdalar function. Enhancing plasma glucocorticoid concentrations during SWS-rich early sleep counteracted hippocampus-dependent declarative memory consolidation, but did not affect hippocampus-independent procedural memory. Preventing the increase in cortisol during late REM sleep-rich sleep by administration of metyrapone impaired hippocampus-dependent declarative memory but enhanced amygdala-dependent emotional aspects of memory. The data underscore the importance of pituitary-adrenal inhibition during early SWS-rich sleep for efficient consolidation of declarative memory. The increase in cortisol release during late REM sleep-rich sleep may counteract an overshooting consolidation of emotional memories.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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