A Deficit in the Ability to Form New Human Memories Without Sleep

Journal: Nature Neuroscience. 2007 Mar; 10(3):385-392 [E-publication ahead of print] thors and affiliations: Yoo SS, Hu PT, Gujar N, Jolesz FA, Walker MP. Department of Radiology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. [E-mail: mwalker@hms.harvard.edu]

PMID: 17293859

Evidence indicates that sleep after learning is critical for the subsequent consolidation of human memory. Whether sleep before learning is equally essential for the initial formation of new memories, however, remains an open question.

We report that a single night of sleep deprivation produces a significant deficit in hippocampal activity during episodic memory encoding, resulting in worse subsequent retention. [See Rich Carson’s September 13, 2006 Founder's Corner on the theory that Fibromyalgia is primarily a brain dysfunction resulting from stress-induced physiological changes to the hippocampus.]

Furthermore, these hippocampal impairments instantiate a different pattern of functional connectivity in basic alertness networks of the brainstem and thalamus.

We also find that unique prefrontal regions predict the success of encoding for sleep-deprived individuals relative to those who have slept normally.

These results demonstrate that an absence of prior sleep substantially compromises the neural and behavioral capacity for committing new experiences to memory.

It therefore appears that sleep before learning is critical in preparing the human brain for next-day memory formation – a worrying finding considering society's increasing erosion of sleep time.

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