Sleep a Speedy Time for Memory Making

Brain Shifts Into Fast-Forward to Make Memories During Sleep

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 15, 2007

Nov. 15, 2007 -- When you go to sleep tonight, your brain may be busy making memories of what you did today -- and it will do it in quick spurts, as if your day was being replayed in fast-forward.

University of Arizona researchers report that the brain's medial prefrontal cortex appears to replay daytime activities during sleep six to seven times faster than real time.

They learned that by monitoring brain activity in rats that had spent the day learning how to scamper around a circular arena in a particular pattern.

While the rats slept, their medial prefrontal cortex had spurts of activity that matched brain activity while the rats had been running around the arena earlier in the day.

The researchers -- who included David Euston, PhD -- took that as a sign that the rats' brains were replaying the experience of learning the route around the arena.

But during sleep, those brain patterns happened six to seven times faster than the time it had taken the rats to scurry around the arena while awake.

In short, the rats' brain activity kicked into overdrive during sleep to consolidate memories.

Scientists already knew that another part of the brain -- the hippocampus -- helps make memories during sleep.

The University of Arizona study shows that the medial prefrontal cortex is also involved in making memories during sleep. The findings appear in tomorrow's edition of Science.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Euston, D. Science, Nov. 16, 2007; vol 318: pp 1147-1150. News release, Science. News release, University of Arizona.

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