Sleep is intimately related to memory processes. The established view is that the transformation of experiences into long-term memories is linked to sleep-related CNS function. However, there is increasing evidence that the autonomic nervous system (ANS), long recognized to modulate cognition during waking, can impact memory processing during sleep. Here, we review human research that examines the role of autonomic activity and sleep in memory formation. We argue that autonomic activity during sleep may set the stage for the CNS dynamics associated with sleep and memory stability and integration. Further, we consider how the link between ANS activity and polysomnographic markers of sleep may help elucidate both healthy and pathological cognitive aging in humans.
Keywords: aging; autonomic nervous system; cognition; memory consolidation; parasympathetic; sympathetic; vagus nerve.
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