Background Learning followed by a period of sleep, even as little as a nap, promotes memory consolidation. It is now generally recognized that sleep facilitates the stabilization of information acquired prior to sleep. However, the temporal nature of the effect of sleep on retention of declarative memory is yet to be understood. We examined the impact of a delayed nap onset on the recognition of neutral pictorial stimuli with an added spatial component. Methodology/Principal Findings Participants completed an initial study session involving 150 neutral pictures of people, places, and objects. Immediately following the picture presentation, participants were asked to make recognition judgments on a subset of “old”, previously seen, pictures versus intermixed “new” pictures. Participants were then divided into one of four groups who either took a 90-minute nap immediately, 2 hours, or 4 hours after learning, or remained awake for the duration of the experiment. 6 hours after initial learning, participants were again tested on the remaining “old” pictures, with “new” pictures intermixed. Conclusions/Significance Interestingly, we found a stabilizing benefit of sleep on the memory trace reflected as a significant negative correlation between the average time elapsed before napping and decline in performance from test to retest (p = .001). We found a significant interaction between the groups and their performance from test to retest (p = .010), with the 4-hour delay group performing significantly better than both those who slept immediately and those who remained awake (p = .044, p = .010, respectively). Analysis of sleep data revealed a significant positive correlation between amount of slow wave sleep (SWS) achieved and length of the delay before sleep onset (p = .048). The findings add to the understanding of memory processing in humans, suggesting that factors such as waking processing and homeostatic increases in need for sleep over time modulate the importance of sleep to consolidation of neutral declarative memories.
Alger, S. E., Lau, H. & Fishbein, W. (2010). Delayed Onset of a Daytime Nap Facilitates Retention of Declarative Memory. PLoS ONE, 5(8), e12131. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012131.