Sleep disruption by memory cues selectively weakens reactivated memories

A widely accepted view in memory research is that recently stored information can be reactivated during sleep, leading to memory strengthening. Two recent studies have shown that this effect can be reversed in participants with highly disrupted sleep. To test whether weakening of reactivated memories can result directly from sleep disruption, in this experiment we varied the intensity of memory reactivation cues such that some produced sleep arousals. Prior to sleep, participants (local community members) learned the locations of 75 objects, each accompanied by a sound naturally associated with that object. Location recall was tested before and after sleep, and a subset of the sounds was presented during sleep to provoke reactivation of the corresponding locations. Reactivation with sleep arousal weakened memories, unlike the improvement typically found after reactivation without sleep arousal. We conclude that reactivated memories can be selectively weakened during sleep, and that memory reactivation may strengthen or weaken memories depending on additional factors such as concurrent sleep disruption.
Funding Information
  • National Institutes of Health (R01-NS112942, T32-NS047987, T32-MH06756, McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders Award)
  • McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience

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