Memories can be decoded from brain waves during sleep, say researchers – The University of York

Memories can be decoded from brain waves during sleep, say researchers

Posted on 8 March 2018

Research at the University of York has shown that the content of newly formed memories can be decoded from brain activity whilst people are asleep.


There is a particular pattern of brain activity that supports memory reactivation processes.

Scientific study has already shown that memories are better remembered after sleep than wakefulness. Recently acquired information is thought to be ‘reactivated’ and strengthened in the sleeping brain.

The researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Birmingham, have now demonstrated that there is a particular pattern of brain activity that supports this reactivation process.

Sleep spindles, the short bursts of activity in the brain during sleep, are enhanced when memories are reactivated. This new study has also shown that the content of reactivated memories can be decoded at the time that spindles occur.

Neural processes

Dr Scott Cairney, from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “We are quite certain that memories are reactivated in the brain during sleep, but we don’t know the neural processes that underpin this phenomenon.

“Sleep spindles have been linked to the benefits of sleep for memory in previous research, so we wanted to investigate whether these brain waves mediate reactivation. If they support memory reactivation, we further reasoned that it could be possible to decipher memory signals at the time that these spindles took place.”

The research findings could be important for enhancing understanding of how the brain learns and retains information.  Improving knowledge of the mechanisms that are active during sleep could also have implications for further study into memory conditions that arise as a result of these mechanisms failing.

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About Tore Nielsen

Researcher at University of Montreal and Director of Dream & Nightmare Laboratory
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