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Front Neurol. 2012 May 1;3:59. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2012.00059. eCollection 2012.

Nocturnal mnemonics: sleep and hippocampal memory processing.

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Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of California Berkeley, CA, USA.


As critical as waking brain function is to learning and memory, an established literature now describes an equally important yet complementary role for sleep in information processing. This overview examines the specific contribution of sleep to human hippocampal memory processing; both the detriments caused by a lack of sleep, and conversely, the proactive benefits that develop following the presence of sleep. First, a role for sleep before learning is discussed, preparing the hippocampus for initial memory encoding. Second, a role for sleep after learning is considered, modulating the post-encoding consolidation of hippocampal-dependent memory. Third, a model is outlined in which these encoding and consolidation operations are symbiotically accomplished, associated with specific NREM sleep physiological oscillations. As a result, the optimal network outcome is achieved: increasing hippocampal independence and hence overnight consolidation, while restoring next-day sparse hippocampal encoding capacity for renewed learning ability upon awakening. Finally, emerging evidence is considered suggesting that, unlike previous conceptions, sleep does not universally consolidate all information. Instead, and based on explicit as well as saliency cues during initial encoding, sleep executes the discriminatory offline consolidation only of select information. Consequently, sleep promotes the targeted strengthening of some memories while actively forgetting others; a proposal with significant theoretical and clinical ramifications.


consolidation; encoding; forgetting; hippocampus; memory; sleep; sleep spindles

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