Until recently, the electrophysiological mechanisms involved in strengthening new memories into a more permanent form during sleep have been largely unknown. The sleep spindle is an event in the electroencephalogram (EEG) characterizing Stage 2 sleep. Sleep spindles may reflect, at the electrophysiological level, an ideal mechanism for inducing long-term synaptic changes in the neocortex. Recent evidence suggests the spindle is highly correlated with tests of intellectual ability (e.g.; IQ tests) and may serve as a physiological index of intelligence. Further, spindles increase in number and duration in sleep following new learning and are correlated with performance improvements. Spindle density and sigma (14-16Hz) spectral power have been found to be positively correlated with performance following a daytime nap, and animal studies suggest the spindle is involved in a hippocampal-neocortical dialogue necessary for memory consolidation. The findings reviewed here collectively provide a compelling body of evidence that the function of the sleep spindle is related to intellectual ability and memory consolidation.
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