Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Sounds During Sleep Boost Memory

'Cues' Help the Brain Retain New Learning
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 19, 2009 -- Researchers are learning more and more about how our senses aid memory and learning while we sleep.

Several years ago, scientists reported that scents smelled during sleep could help trigger learning by boosting the brain's ability to retain new memories.

Now a new study suggests sound can do the same thing.

Study participants were better able to recall a newly learned memory when they were exposed to sound cues for the memory while they napped, even though they did not remember hearing the sounds upon awaking.

“We have known that the memory system is quite active during sleep and that the memory can be strengthened at this time,” researcher John D. Rudoy, of Northwestern University, tells WebMD.

In the new study, which appears in the Nov. 20 issue of Science, Rudoy and colleagues examined whether sound cues associated with newly learned information help the brain retain the new memories.

Sleeping Soundly

The study included 12 young adults who were asked to learn a new task and then take a nap.

During the learning phase of the experiment, the participants were shown 50 images, which appeared one at a time at different locations on a computer screen.

Each image had a corresponding sound cue, such as the sound of shattering glass with the image of a wine glass, a meow with a picture of a cat, and so on.

The memory task involved placing the images in their original location when they were shown a short time later with the sound cue. This phase of the study ended when the participants did this twice with all of the images.

Within an hour of completing the learning phase, the participants were asked to take a nap in a quiet, dark room after electrodes were placed on their scalps to monitor brain activity.

After verifying that participants were in a deep sleep, the researchers played 25 of the 50 sound cues heard during the learning phase of the experiment and 25 new sound cues.

Upon awaking, the participants were given the memory test again. Their post-nap scores were worse than their pre-nap scores, showing some loss of memory with time.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix