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Brain Imaging and Behavior

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The sleep spindle, a waxing and waning oscillation in the sigma frequency range, has been shown to correlate with fluid intelligence; i.e. the ability to use logic, learn novel rules/patterns, and solve problems. Using simultaneous EEG and fMRI, we previously identified the neural correlates of this relationship, including activation of the thalamus, bilateral putamen, medial frontal gyrus, middle cingulate cortex, and precuneus. However, research to date has focussed primarily on non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and spindles per se, thus overlooking the possibility that brain activity that occurs in other sleep–wake states might also be related to cognitive abilities. In our current study, we sought to investigate whether brain activity across sleep/wake states is also related to human intelligence in N = 29 participants. During NREM sleep, positive correlations were observed between fluid intelligence and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activations in the bilateral putamen and the paracentral lobule/precuneus, as well as between short-term memory (STM) abilities and activity in the medial frontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus. During wake, activity in bilateral postcentral gyri and occipital lobe was positively correlated with short-term memory abilities. In participants who experienced REM sleep in the scanner, fluid intelligence was positively associated with midbrain activation, and verbal intelligence was associated with right postcentral gyrus activation. These findings provide evidence that the relationship between sleep and intellectual abilities exists beyond sleep spindles.