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Neurobiology of learning and memory



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Memory reactivation during slow-wave sleep (SWS) influences the consolidation of recently acquired knowledge. This reactivation occurs spontaneously during sleep but can also be triggered by presenting learning-related cues, a technique known as targeted memory reactivation (TMR). Here we examined whether TMR can improve vocabulary learning. Participants learned the meanings of 60 novel words. Auditory cues for half the words were subsequently presented during SWS in an afternoon nap. Memory performance for cued versus uncued words did not differ at the group level but was systematically influenced by REM sleep duration. Participants who obtained relatively greater amounts of REM showed a significant benefit for cued relative to uncued words, whereas participants who obtained little or no REM demonstrated a significant effect in the opposite direction. We propose that REM after SWS may be critical for the consolidation of highly integrative memories, such as new vocabulary. Reactivation during SWS may allow newly encoded memories to be associated with other information, but this association can include disruptive linkages with pre-existing memories. Subsequent REM sleep may then be particularly beneficial for integrating new memories into appropriate pre-existing memory networks. These findings support the general proposition that memory storage benefits optimally from a cyclic succession of SWS and REM.

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