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WIREs Cogn Sci
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The role of sleep in cognitive processing: focusing on memory consolidation

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Research indicates that sleep promotes various cognitive functions, such as decision‐making, language, categorization, and memory. Of these, most work has focused on the influence of sleep on memory, with ample work showing that sleep enhances memory consolidation, a process that stores new memories in the brain over time. Recent psychological and neurophysiological research has vastly increased understanding of this process. Such work not only suggests that consolidation relies on plasticity‐related mechanisms that reactivate and stabilize memory representations, but also that this process may be experimentally manipulated by methods that target which memory traces are reactivated during sleep. Furthermore, aside from memory storage capabilities, memory consolidation also appears to reorganize and integrate memories with preexisting knowledge, which may facilitate the discovery of underlying rules and associations that benefit other cognitive functioning, including problem solving and creativity. WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1433. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1433 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Memory Psychology > Learning Neuroscience > Cognition
The composition of sleep stages changes across a typical night of sleep. The brain cycles through progressively deeper stages of nonrapid‐eye‐movement (NREM) sleep (stages 1–4) and rapid‐eye‐movement (REM) sleep in roughly 90‐min intervals. However, the majority of slow wave sleep (SWS), the deepest stage of NREM sleep, is obtained during the first half of the night, while more REM sleep is obtained during the second half of the night. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2011 Elsevier)
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The number reduction task. (a) Participants must reduce a set of eight digits, which may only consist of a series of the digits 1, 4, and 9, to a set of seven digits based on particular rules. The set is transformed by comparing two numbers at a time, beginning with the first two. When two numbers are the same, the resulting number must be the same. The newly generated number is then compared with the next one in the old set. If the two numbers are different, the resulting number must be the third possible digit. (b) Participants completed three learning trials prior to a delay occurring over a night with sleep, a night without sleep, or a day without sleep. Participants then completed 10 more testing trials. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2004 Macmillan Publishers Ltd)
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An example task used in targeted memory reactivation. (a) The object–location task involves associating a series of object images with particular locations on the computer screen while semantically related sounds are presented. A baseline test of memory for pairs shows no difference in memory for subsequently cued or uncued pairs. (b) Sounds for half of the pairs are replayed during slow wave sleep. The brain responds differently to cues depending on subsequent memory for the pairs. (c) At testing, previously viewed objects must be moved to the region of the screen they were associated with during study. Cued objects are placed closer to their original location than uncued objects. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2009 AAAS)
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The visual discrimination task. (a, b) An image consisting of horizontal bars, either a central target T or L, and a peripheral row or column of three diagonal bars is briefly presented. (c) The original image is replaced by a masking stimulus, signaling that the participant must identify the central letter and the peripheral bar orientation of the previously presented image. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2011 Elsevier)
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