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HOME > PAST ISSUE > July-August 2006 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Sleep to Remember

The brain needs sleep before and after learning new things, regardless of the type of memory. Naps can help, but caffeine isn't an effective substitute

Matthew Walker

Figure 4. Memory goes through several stages...Click to Enlarge Image

Why do we sleep? Over the millenia people have concocted all kinds of answers to this puzzling question. Even today, scientists don’t have a comprehensive explanation. One hypothesis is that our brain needs sleep so that it can store information—or, as we usually say, memories. During the past decade, many research teams have accumulated neuroanatomical, behavioral and molecular data that supports this idea, known as "sleep-dependent memory processing." It turns out that specific rules govern the interactions of certain episodes of sleep and categories of memory. Walker explains this area of research, including his own seminal studies that capture snapshots of the working brain with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (electroencephalograph) to see how the brain's circuitry physically adapts as a memory takes hold.


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