Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sleep and Memory: Survival of the Fittest?

An article in the April issue of The Scientist takes an in-depth look at a new theory about sleep and memory.

The theory proposes that sleep’s core function is to prune the synapses formed when you are awake. Only the strongest neuronal connections “survive.”

Thus the most important connections remain; unimportant connections are eliminated. This pruning process boosts learning and memory.

The article addresses a number of questions about the theory.

Will it replace the theory that the purpose of sleep is to replay memories and “consolidate” them? What role does slow-wave sleep play in this process? What about rapid eye movement (REM) sleep? And where do memory patterns fit in – are specific memories reactivated and reorganized during sleep?

Also, how does the theory align with
another study published in February? That study suggests that sleep strengthens connections instead of weakening them.

Read the article to find out more.

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