Memory loss at sleep onset

Cereb Cortex Commun. 2022 Oct 29;3(4):tgac042. doi: 10.1093/texcom/tgac042. eCollection 2022.


Every night, we pass through a transitory zone at the borderland between wakefulness and sleep, named the first stage of nonrapid eye movement sleep (N1). N1 sleep is associated with increased hippocampal activity and dream-like experiences that incorporate recent wake materials, suggesting that it may be associated with memory processing. Here, we investigated the specific contribution of N1 sleep in the processing of memory traces. Participants were asked to learn the precise locations of 48 objects on a grid and were then tested on their memory for these items before and after a 30-min rest during which participants either stayed fully awake or transitioned toward N1 or deeper (N2) sleep. We showed that memory recall was lower (10% forgetting) after a resting period, including only N1 sleep compared to N2 sleep. Furthermore, the ratio of alpha/theta power (an electroencephalography marker of the transition toward sleep) correlated negatively with the forgetting rate when taking into account all sleepers (N1 and N2 groups combined), suggesting a physiological index for memory loss that transcends sleep stages. Our findings suggest that interrupting sleep onset at N1 may alter sleep-dependent memory consolidation and promote forgetting.

Keywords: N1 sleep; drowsiness; forgetting; memory; sleep onset.