Researchers Discover How To Enhance Memories During Sleep – By Triggering Brain Waves

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Researchers Discover How To Enhance Memories During Sleep - By Triggering Brain Waves
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If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, this Korean study might change your mind. Typically, good quality sleep can boost your overall wellness: better immunity, mood, and energy levels are all part of the package. Researchers from South Korea’s Institute for Basic Science found that because sleep plays a very large role in the body’s natural rebooting processes, you can actually enhance your memory during sleep! In the 2017 research conducted at the Institute’s Center for Cognition and Sociality=, researchers concluded that triggering specific brain waves led to better memory consolidation or memory retention.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement And Slow Wave Sleep

Lead researcher Charles-Francois Latchoumane and his team turned their attention to very specific part of the sleep cycle in the study: the last part of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, before the body falls into “deep sleep” or REM (rapid eye movement). This part is also called slow-wave sleep (SWS). The researchers built their study on the assumption that this part of sleep is essential in maintaining information and memory processing in the brain.

Using three groups of mice, two of which were experimental groups and one a control group, the researchers instilled fear memory by administering a mild electrical shock to the mice after a tone during the beginning of the study. While the mice slept, their brains were stimulated during the SWS phase. The first experimental group received slow, in-sync oscillations while the second experimental group received out-of-sync oscillations. These stimulations were done using a process called optogenetics, where light is used to stimulate the spindles and ripples in the brain.

The day after the treatment was applied, the researchers discovered that 40 percent of the mice in the first experimental group froze in fear after hearing the tone (the tone they heard before the electrical shock was given). This number decreased to 20 percent in the second experimental and the control groups. The scientists determined from these results that manipulation of brain waves in very specific moments during sleep can enhance memory, and that this sort of treatment could also work the other way around by reducing memory as well.

However, Dr. Shin, a member of Latchoumane’s research team, also warns that the treatment applied to the mice involved in the study may not be used on humans yet. Their team used optogenetics by implantation of an optic cable into the mice’s brain. Currently, this type of invasive procedure cannot be used on humans as it was used on the mice. Further research needs to be conducted in order to find what kind of technique can be safely used on humans, with the same effect the study observed.

Memory And Cognition

The brain is the body’s most complex organ. Weighing only three pounds, roughly two percent of our body weight, the brain is responsible for everything that goes on in the body. Breathing, eating, walking… you name it, the brain controls it. Of the many things the brain is responsible for, our cognitive abilities rank high on the list. Emotions and memory are likewise controlled the brain as well, and if we can “control” our brain or the way it functions, we can control a lot of aspects of our cognitive abilities as well. Latchoumane’s study suggests is that through certain procedures, human beings can no longer be limited by short attention span and memory. This can mean a lot for people affected by memory disorders like dementia or Alzheimer’s, or even people affected by amnesia; of course, this is still a whole lot of conjecture and more research needs to be done before we can conduct the same experiment of humans but the results give us new hope on improving our, and our loved ones, cognitive wellbeing.


[1] Latchoumane, C., et. al. (2017). Thalamic Spindles Promote Memory Formation during Sleep through Triple Phase-Locking of Cortical, Thalamic, and Hippocampal Rhythms.…/

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