Slow-Wave Activity Enhancement to Improve Cognition

Trends Neurosci. 2018 Jul;41(7):470-482. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2018.03.003. Epub 2018 Apr 5.


Slow-wave activity (SWA), and its coupling with other sleep features, reorganizes cortical circuitry, supporting cognition. This raises the question: can cognition be improved through SWA enhancement? SWA enhancement techniques range from behavioral interventions (such as exercise), which have high feasibility but low specificity, to laboratory-based techniques (such as transcranial stimulation), which have high specificity but are less feasible for widespread use. In this review we describe the pathways through which SWA is enhanced. Pathways encompass enhanced neural activity, increased energy metabolism, and endocrine signaling during wakefulness; also direct enhancement during sleep. We evaluate the robustness and practicality of SWA-enhancement techniques, discuss approaches for determining a causal role of SWA on cognition, and present questions to clarify the mechanisms of SWA-dependent cognitive improvements.

Keywords: NREM sleep; executive function; memory consolidation; slow-wave activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / therapy
  • Humans
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*