Declarative memory consolidation: mechanisms acting during human sleep

Learn Mem. 2004 Nov-Dec;11(6):679-85. doi: 10.1101/lm.80504.


Of late, an increasing number of studies have shown a strong relationship between sleep and memory. Here we summarize a series of our own studies in humans supporting a beneficial influence of slow-wave sleep (SWS) on declarative memory formation, and try to identify some mechanisms that might underlie this influence. Specifically, these experiments show that declarative memory benefits mainly from sleep periods dominated by SWS, whereas there is no consistent benefit of this memory from periods rich in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A main mechanism of declarative memory formation is believed to be the reactivation of newly acquired memory representations in hippocampal networks that stimulates a transfer and integration of these representations into neocortical neuronal networks. Consistent with this model, spindle activity and slow oscillation-related EEG coherence increase during early sleep after intense declarative learning in humans, signs that together point toward a neocortical reprocessing of the learned material. In addition, sleep seems to provide an optimal milieu for declarative memory reprocessing and consolidation by reducing cholinergic activation and the cortisol feedback to the hippocampus during SWS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Learning / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology


  • Acetylcholine