The effect of zolpidem on memory consolidation over a night of sleep

Sleep. 2020 Nov 12;43(11):zsaa084. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsaa084.


Study objectives: Nonrapid eye movement sleep boosts hippocampus-dependent, long-term memory formation more so than wake. Studies have pointed to several electrophysiological events that likely play a role in this process, including thalamocortical sleep spindles (12-15 Hz). However, interventional studies that directly probe the causal role of spindles in consolidation are scarce. Previous studies have used zolpidem, a GABA-A agonist, to increase sleep spindles during a daytime nap and promote hippocampal-dependent episodic memory. The current study investigated the effect of zolpidem on nighttime sleep and overnight improvement of episodic memories.

Methods: We used a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subject design to test the a priori hypothesis that zolpidem would lead to increased memory performance on a word-paired associates task by boosting spindle activity. We also explored the impact of zolpidem across a range of other spectral sleep features, including slow oscillations (0-1 Hz), delta (1-4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), sigma (12-15 Hz), as well as spindle-SO coupling.

Results: We showed greater memory improvement after a night of sleep with zolpidem, compared to placebo, replicating a prior nap study. Additionally, zolpidem increased sigma power, decreased theta and delta power, and altered the phase angle of spindle-SO coupling, compared to placebo. Spindle density, theta power, and spindle-SO coupling were associated with next-day memory performance.

Conclusions: These results are consistent with the hypothesis that sleep, specifically the timing and amount of sleep spindles, plays a causal role in the long-term formation of episodic memories. Furthermore, our results emphasize the role of nonrapid eye movement theta activity in human memory consolidation.

Keywords: SO coupling; memory; sleep spindles; spindle; theta; zolpidem.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Memory Consolidation*
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep
  • Zolpidem


  • Zolpidem