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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40963. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040963. Epub 2012 Jul 12.

The timing of learning before night-time sleep differentially affects declarative and procedural long-term memory consolidation in adolescents.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


Sleep after learning has been shown to foster the consolidation of new memories. However, fundamental questions on the best timing of learning before night-time sleep persist. We tested the hypothesis that learning directly prior to night-time sleep compared to 7.5 hrs prior to night-time sleep provides better conditions for the consolidation of declarative and procedural memories. Fifty healthy female adolescents (aged 16-17 years) were trained on a declarative word-pair and a procedural finger-tapping task at 3 pm (afternoon group, n = 25) or at 9 pm (evening group, n = 25), followed by a sleep laboratory night. Retrieval was assessed 24 hours and 7 days after initial training. Subjects trained in the afternoon showed a significantly elevated retention rate of word-pairs compared to subjects trained in the evening after 24 hours, but not after 7 days. In contrast, off-line gains in finger-tapping performance were significantly higher in subjects trained in the evening compared to those trained in the afternoon after both retention intervals. The observed enhanced consolidation of procedural memories after training in the evening fits to current models of sleep-related memory consolidation. In contrast, the higher retention of declarative memories after encoding in the afternoon is surprising, appeared to be less robust and needs further investigation.

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