The benefit of sleep in general for memory consolidation is well known. The relevance of sleep characteristics and the influence of hormones are not well studied. We explored the effects of a nap on memory consolidation of motor (finger-tapping-task) and verbal (associated-word-pairs) tasks in following settings: A: young, healthy males and females during early-follicular phase (n=40) and B: females during mid-luteal and early-follicular phase in the menstrual cycle (n=15). We found a sex and in women a menstrual cycle effect on memory performance following a nap. Men performed significantly better after a nap and women did so only in the mid-luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. Only the men and the women in their mid-luteal phase experienced a significant increase in spindle activity after learning. Furthermore, in women estrogen correlated significantly with the offline change in declarative learning and progesterone with motor learning. The ratio of the 2nd and 4th digit, which has been associated to fetal sex hormones and cognitive sex differences, significantly predicted the average performance of the female subjects in the learning tasks. Our results demonstrate that sleep-related memory consolidation has a higher complexity and more influencing factors than previously assumed. There is a sex and menstrual cycle effect, which seems to be mediated by female hormones and sleep spindles. Further, contrary to previous reports, consolidation of a simple motor task can be induced by a 45 min NREM sleep nap, thus not dependent on REM sleep.
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