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Sleep Med Rev. 2013 Apr;17(2):105-21. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2012.04.001. Epub 2012 Jun 27.

Caveats on psychological models of sleep and memory: a compass in an overgrown scenario.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Second University of Naples, Via Vivaldi 43, Caserta, Italy.


The search for a unitary model of sleep-memory relationships seems still far from accomplished, despite the huge body of data produced in the latest twenty years. So far, inconsistent results have been mainly addressed by parcelling out memory through a continuous refinement of its classification systems, with a major focus on dichotomic distinctions such as the one concerning the declarative vs. procedural memory systems, or the implicit vs. explicit nature of learning. Although this approach has provided a remarkable contribution, it has somehow resulted in an extreme fragmentation of the scenario, where it is even more complex to get a clear picture of the way sleep and memory are connected. This article, starting from a review of the most recent literature on sleep-memory relationships, is intended to provide a compass in this frantically moving landscape. By sorting out the most promising research lines, we highlight some crucial "ongoing" theoretical developments, such as: the rediscovery of the classical notion in psychology of memory that learning has a reconstructive rather than a reproductive nature, with the need of addressing phenomena such as the delicate balance between remembering and forgetting and the integration of different items of knowledge; the growing interest in the role of additional factors influencing memory processes, such as intentionality and learning strategies; the possibility that organizational rather than structural features of sleep are essential to sleep-dependent memory consolidation. We will also discuss how these recent perspectives disclose a number of relevant methodological caveats to be carefully taken into account when conceiving experimental designs.

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