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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 15;8(10):e77621. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077621. eCollection 2013.

Sleep improves prospective remembering by facilitating spontaneous-associative retrieval processes.

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Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tuebingen, Tuebingen, Germany.


Memories are of the past but for the future, enabling individuals to implement intended plans and actions at the appropriate time. Prospective memory is the specific ability to remember and execute an intended behavior at some designated point in the future. Although sleep is well-known to benefit the consolidation of memories for past events, its role for prospective memory is still not well understood. Here, we show that sleep as compared to wakefulness after prospective memory instruction enhanced the successful execution of prospective memories two days later. We further show that sleep benefited both components of prospective memory, i.e. to remember that something has to be done (prospective component) and to remember what has to be done (retrospective component). Finally, sleep enhanced prospective remembering particularly when attentional resources were reduced during task execution, suggesting that subjects after sleep were able to recruit additional spontaneous-associative retrieval processes to remember intentions successfully. Our findings indicate that sleep supports the maintenance of prospective memory over time by strengthening intentional memory representations, thus favoring the spontaneous retrieval of the intended action at the appropriate time.

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