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Brain Cogn. 2008 Nov;68(2):180-92. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2008.04.006. Epub 2008 Jun 9.

Changes in processing of masked stimuli across early- and late-night sleep: a study on behavior and brain potentials.

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Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, 23538 Lübeck, Germany.


Sleep has proven to support the memory consolidation in many tasks including learning of perceptual skills. Explicit, conscious types of memory have been demonstrated to benefit particularly from slow-wave sleep (SWS), implicit, non-conscious types particularly from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. By comparing the effects of early-night sleep, rich in SWS, and late-night sleep, rich in REM sleep, we aimed to separate the contribution of these two sleep stages in a metacontrast masking paradigm in which explicit and implicit aspects in perceptual learning could be assessed separately by stimulus identification and priming, respectively. We assumed that early sleep intervening between two sessions of task performance would specifically support stimulus identification, while late sleep would specifically support priming. Apart from overt behavior, event-related EEG potentials (ERPs) were measured to record the cortical mechanisms associated with behavioral changes across sleep. In contrast to our hypothesis, late-night sleep appeared to be more important for changes of behavior, both for stimulus identification, which tended to improve across late-night sleep, and for priming, with the increase of errors induced by masked stimuli correlating with the duration of REM sleep. ERP components proved sensitive to presence of target shapes in the masked stimuli and to their priming effects. Of these components, the N2 component, indicating processing of conflict, became larger across early-night sleep and was related to the duration of S4 sleep, the deepest substage of SWS containing particularly high portions of EEG slow waves. These findings suggest that sleep promotes perceptual learning primarily by its REM sleep portion, but indirectly also by way of improved action monitoring supported by deep slow-wave sleep.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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