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Yale J Biol Med. 2019 Mar 25;92(1):63-80. eCollection 2019 Mar.

Can Slow-Wave Sleep Enhancement Improve Memory? A Review of Current Approaches and Cognitive Outcomes.

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Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada.
Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada.


Slow-wave sleep (SWS) is involved in the overnight consolidation of declarative memories. Recent efforts using auditory stimulation, slow-oscillatory transcranial direct current stimulation (so-tDCS), and pharmacological agents have targeted sleep slow-waves as a method for enhancing cognitive performance. However, no studies thus far have integrated current evidence to provide a preliminary review of the effects of SWS enhancement on memory and other cognitive outcomes. The objective of this review was to synthesize the results of recent experimental studies that have used auditory stimulation, electrical, and pharmacological methods to boost both SWS and cognitive performance. A systematic review was done to identify and consolidate all currently existing empirical studies in this area. We found that each stimulation method could enhance slow-wave power and/or SWS duration in human subjects. Closed-loop, in-phase auditory stimulation enhanced verbal declarative memory in healthy adults. Electrical stimulation using so-tDCS showed some efficacy in promoting verbal declarative memory, picture recognition memory, and location memory. Interleukin-6 and sodium oxybate enhanced declarative verbal memory, while tiagabine and sodium oxybate improved some non-memory measures of cognitive performance. There is some evidence that so-tDCS can also improve certain cognitive outcomes in clinical populations. Overall, future studies should recruit larger sample sizes drawn from more diverse populations, and determine clinical significance and effect sizes of each enhancement methodology.


Auditory stimulation; Cognition; Direct current stimulation; Humans; Memory; Sleep slow oscillations; Sleep spindles; Slow-wave enhancement; Slow-wave sleep; Sustained attention

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