Researchers Can ‘See’ Your Memories While You Sleep

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Researchers found that cueing new information during sleep improves memory of that information.

Daniel Oberhaus | MOTHERBOARD

Everybody needs to sleep, even if researchers aren’t entirely sure why.

One of the leading theories suggests sleep plays a critical role in the consolidation of memory, but characterizing this process has been difficult. The basic idea is that a sleeping brain reactivates the same neural pathways that were activated when the memory was first formed. This reactivation strengthens synaptic connections between neurons, which results in stronger memories. Indeed, a growing body of research has shown that people are able to remember information better after ‘sleeping on it.’

“We are quite certain that memories are reactivated in the brain during sleep, but we don’t know the neural processes that underpin this phenomenon,” Scott Cairney, a professor of psychology at the University of York, said in a statement.

New research published today by Cairney and his colleagues in Current Biology has made significant headway on this issue by linking sleep spindles—spontaneous bursts of brain activity—to memory processing in a sleeping brain. Incredibly, the researchers claim it is possible to determine the content of the memory being processed by analyzing this brain activity.

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