An increase in sleep slow waves predicts better working memory performance in healthy individuals

Neuroimage. 2019 May 1;191:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.020. Epub 2019 Feb 10.


Sleep is imperative for brain health and well-being, and restorative sleep is associated with better cognitive functioning. Increasing evidence indicates that electrophysiological measures of sleep, especially slow wave activity (SWA), regulate the consolidation of motor and perceptual procedural memory. In contrast, the role of sleep EEG and SWA in modulating executive functions, including working memory (WM), has been far less characterized. Here, we investigated across-night changes in sleep EEG that may ameliorate WM performance. Participants (N = 25, M = 100%) underwent two consecutive nights with high-density EEG, along with N-back tasks, which were administered at three time points the day before and after the second night of sleep. Non-rapid eye movement sleep EEG power spectra, power topography, as well as several slow-wave parameters were computed and compared across nights. Improvers on the 1-back, but not non-improvers, showed a significant increase in SWA as well as in down slope and negative peak amplitude, in a fronto-parietal region, and these parameters increases predicted better WM performance. Overall, these findings show that slow-wave sleep has a beneficial effect on WM and that it can occur in the adult brain even after minimal training. This is especially relevant, when considering that WM and other executive function cognitive deficits are present in several neuropsychiatric disorders, and that slow-wave enhancing interventions can improve cognition, thus providing novel insights and treatment strategies for these patients.

Keywords: High-density EEG; Sleep; Topography; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Sleep, Slow-Wave / physiology*