Declarative memory consolidation during the first night in a sleep lab: The role of REM sleep and cortisol

Department of Psychology, Humboldt University, 12489 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address: .
Psychoneuroendocrinology (Impact Factor: 4.94). 12/2012; 38(7). DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.10.019
Source: PubMed


While the consolidation of declarative memory is supported by slow wave sleep (SWS) in healthy subjects, it has been shown to be associated with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in patients with insomnia. Sleep during a subject's first night in an unfamiliar environment is often disturbed, and this so-called first-night effect (FNE) has often been used as a model of transient insomnia. Additionally, sleeping for the first time in an unfamiliar environment can lead to increased cortisol secretion, and declarative memory consolidation likely depends on low cortisol levels, especially during the early part of the night. Accounting for intersubject variability in the FNE, we examined the relationship between sleep stages, cortisol secretion and declarative memory performance in 27 healthy young men. Declarative memory performance improved significantly after sleep. Whereas memory performance during the learning session and retrieval testing was strongly associated with cortisol secretion, the overnight gain was not. Post hoc analyses indicated that the overnight gain appears to be modulated by the extent of the FNE: a significant overnight improvement in memory performance was found only in subjects with a weak FNE (n=12). In these subjects, no association was found between any sleep stage and the improvement observed in their memory performance. In subjects with a strong FNE (n=12), however, the overnight change in memory performance was associated with the proportion of REM sleep and the total number of REMs. Disturbed sleep in an unfamiliar environment therefore appears to affect the memory consolidation process.

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    • "The authors supposed that when SWS is decreased, REM sleep might play a partly compensatory role in the consolidation of declarative memory (Backhaus et al. 2006). Interestingly, in healthy subjects whose sleep was markedly affected by sleeping in an unfamiliar environment [i.e., subjects who showed a strong first-night effect (FNE) which has often been used as a model of transient insomnia] the overnight change in declarative memory performance was also associated with the amount of REM sleep and the total number of rapid eye movements (Goerke et al. 2012). However, subjects with a strong FNE did not differ from those with a weak FNE in terms of SWS, so REM sleep seems to compensate for another insomnia-specific feature . "
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