Recent sleep research has demonstrated that a noninvasive brain stimulation method can help people to improve their memory. The results of this study were published in JNeurosci, and the United States Department of Defense founded the entire research project. The research aimed to help scientists learn more about the process of memory consolidation, and how could scientists translate memory consolidation into improved memory function in both healthy individuals and patients.
Scientists believe that the transfer of memories from the hippocampus to the neocortex is probably enabled by synchronization of these parts of the brain during sleep. This transfer is vital for long-term storage of memories, and since they believe it occurs during sleep, they are looking for a way to enhance this process overnight and potentially improve memory function. Researchers Nicholas Ketz, Praveen Pilly, and other scientists at the University of New Mexico have come up with a technique that will somehow enhance the process of neural replay, and they manage to do it with a unique stimulation system that perfectly matches the phase and frequency of ongoing slow-wave oscillations during sleep.
Participants of the study received brain stimulation overnight and were tested in the morning. The test consisted of a visual discrimination task in which participants had to detect threatening and potentially dangerous hidden objects and people in a specific environment (such as snipers and explosive devices). The group that received overnight brain stimulation performed better. More interesting is that they kept showing improved performance the next day, even if they didn’t receive brain stimulation the previous night. Scientists believe this is an example of an integration of recent experience into long-term and general memory.
Findings have provided a proven method for enhancing memory consolidation during sleep, and further research aims to optimize and maximize stimulation in future applications.