It has been suggested that healthy sleep facilitates the consolidation of newly acquired memories and underlying brain plasticity. The authors tested the hypothesis that patients with primary insomnia (PI) would show deficits in sleep-related memory consolidation compared to good sleeper controls (GSC). The study used a four-group parallel design (n=86) to investigate the effects of 12 h of night-time, including polysomnographically monitored sleep ('sleep condition' in PI and GSC), versus 12 h of daytime wakefulness ('wake condition' in PI and GSC) on procedural (mirror tracing task) and declarative memory consolidation (visual and verbal learning task). Demographic characteristics and memory encoding did not differ between the groups at baseline. Polysomnography revealed a significantly disturbed sleep profile in PI compared to GSC in the sleep condition. Night-time periods including sleep in GSC were associated with (i) a significantly enhanced procedural and declarative verbal memory consolidation compared to equal periods of daytime wakefulness in GSC and (ii) a significantly enhanced procedural memory consolidation compared to equal periods of daytime wakefulness and night-time sleep in PI. Across retention intervals of daytime wakefulness, no differences between the experimental groups were observed. This pattern of results suggests that healthy sleep fosters the consolidation of new memories, and that this process is impaired for procedural memories in patients with PI. Future work is needed to investigate the impact of treatment on improving sleep and memory.
© 2010 European Sleep Research Society.