The last decade has witnessed a spurt of new publications documenting sleep's essential contribution to the brains ability to form lasting memories. For the declarative memory domain, slow wave sleep (the deepest sleep stage) has the greatest beneficial effect on the consolidation of memories acquired during preceding wakefulness. The finding that newly encoded memories become reactivated during subsequent sleep fostered the idea that reactivation leads to the strengthening and transformation of the memory trace. According to the active system consolidation account, trace reactivation leads to the redistribution of the transient memory representations from the hippocampus to the long-lasting knowledge networks of the cortex. Apart from consolidating previously learned information, sleep also facilitates the encoding of new memories after sleep, which probably relies on the renormalization of synaptic weights during sleep as suggested by the synaptic homeostasis theory. During wakefulness overshooting potentiation causes an imbalance in synaptic weights that is countered by synaptic downscaling during subsequent sleep. This review briefly introduces the basic concepts and central findings of the research on sleep and memory, and discusses implications of this lab-based work for everyday applications to make the best possible use of sleep's beneficial effect on learning and memory.
Keywords: applied research; consolidation; learning; memory; sleep.