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Scientists discovered that memory brainwaves look the same in sleep and wakefulness

Posted October 12, 2018

Sleep is very important for your health. It allows your body to heal and your brain to rest. It is the time when memories are getting consolidated and prepared for retrieval later. This function of sleep is already a well-known process, but the mechanism of how it actually happens is largely unknown. Now scientists from the University of Birmingham revealed that the same neural patterns in the brain which are triggered when remembering specific memories while awake, reappear during subsequent sleep.

The same neural patterns that can be observed while learning, reoccur while the person is sleeping. Image credit: Edralis via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Researching human memory and mechanism behind it could eventually help us solve the mysteries of memory disorders. Sleep is very important for memory formation, but mechanisms are still poorly understood. Now scientists used a technique called Targeted Memory Reactivation, which is known to enhance memory. Researchers allowed participants of the study to learn some foreign vocabulary and then played it back to them while they were sleeping. Electroencephalography was used to record brain waves both during learning and recovering the information. Comparing neural signals during sleep and while recalling memories, scientists were able to show clear similarities in brain activity.

In short, neural patterns that our brain exhibits while we are recalling memories, reappear later when we sleep. Dr Thomas Schreiner, leader of the research, said: “Although sleep and wakefulness might seem to have little in common, this study shows that brain activity in each of these states might be more similar than we previously thought. The neural activity we recorded provides further evidence for how important sleep is to memory and, ultimately, for our well-being”.

Interestingly, scientists are saying that these findings could be used to alter memories, which could be useful in certain therapeutic setting. But, most importantly, this information could be useful in creating new treatments for memory disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, many steps remain to be taken until it is possible. Now scientists are planning to analyse spontaneous memory activation during sleep.

Researching sleep and memory is not easy and sometimes requires an external prompt. Despite constant advancements in this area, memory formation is still largely a mystery. Hopefully, new methods are going to accelerate these studies and eventually memory disorders can be alleviated more effectively.


Source: University of Birmingham

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