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Mechanisms of memory retrieval in slow-wave sleep : memory retrieval in slow-wave sleep

Cairney, Scott A.; Sobczak, Justyna M.; Lindsay, Shane; Gaskell, M. Gareth


Scott A. Cairney

Justyna M. Sobczak

M. Gareth Gaskell


Study Objectives: Memories are strengthened during sleep. The benefits of sleep for memory can be enhanced by re-exposing the sleeping brain to auditory cues; a technique known as targeted memory reactivation (TMR). Prior studies have not assessed the nature of the retrieval mechanisms underpinning TMR: the matching process between auditory stimuli encountered during sleep and previously encoded memories. We carried out two experiments to address this issue. Methods: In Experiment 1, participants associated words with verbal and non-verbal auditory stimuli before an overnight interval in which subsets of these stimuli were replayed in slow-wave sleep. We repeated this paradigm in Experiment 2 with the single difference that the gender of the verbal auditory stimuli was switched between learning and sleep. Results: In Experiment 1, forgetting of cued (vs. non-cued) associations was reduced by TMR with verbal and non-verbal cues to similar extents. In Experiment 2, TMR with identical non-verbal cues reduced forgetting of cued (vs. non-cued) associations, replicating Experiment 1. However, TMR with non-identical verbal cues reduced forgetting of both cued and non-cued associations. Conclusions: These experiments suggest that the memory effects of TMR are influenced by the acoustic overlap between stimuli delivered at training and sleep. Our findings hint at the existence of two processing routes for memory retrieval during sleep. Whereas TMR with acoustically identical cues may reactivate individual associations via simple episodic matching, TMR with non-identical verbal cues may utilise linguistic decoding mechanisms, resulting in widespread reactivation across a broad category of memories.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 1, 2017
Journal SLEEP
Print ISSN 0161-8105
Electronic ISSN 1550-9109
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 40
Issue 9
Article Number zsx114
APA6 Citation Cairney, S. A., Sobczak, J. M., Lindsay, S., & Gaskell, M. G. (2017). Mechanisms of memory retrieval in slow-wave sleep : memory retrieval in slow-wave sleep. SLEEP, 40(9), doi:10.1093/sleep/zsx114
Keywords Sleep; Memory; Reactivation
Publisher URL
Additional Information Copy of article first published in: SLEEP, 2017, v.40, issue 9, zsx114.


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Copyright Statement
© Sleep Research Society 2017. Published by Oxford University Press [on behalf of the Sleep Research Society]. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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