Improving Human Memory by Manipulating Consolidation During Sleep


Research over the past several decades has revealed that memory reactivation in sleep contributes to the formation of long-lasting memories. Among the most recent developments in this field is the widespread use of the technique of targeted memory reactivation (TMR), which allows researchers to induce reactivation of specific memories during sleep. TMR has been demonstrated to enhance consolidation of memories in a wide range of tasks, raising the possibility that it could be useful as a general intervention to improve memory. In this thesis, I describe several experiments aimed at using TMR to improve human memory. In chapter 2, I describe an experiment aimed at testing whether TMR could improve performance in a naturalistic face-name associative memory task. This experiment led to a surprising novel finding that sleep quality is a critical factor that determines whether TMR enhances or worsens memory. Improvement in memory was found when sleep was not disrupted by sound presentations. In chapter 3, I describe an additional study on this effect, combining TMR with deliberate sleep disruption. This study confirmed results from the previous study and found that when TMR was paired with sleep disruption, the effects were reversed such that reactivated memories were degraded rather than strengthened. In chapter 4, I describe the design and testing of a system based on smartphones and consumer smartwatches for performing TMR automatically outside of the sleep lab. Our results suggest that this system can replicate the effects of TMR on memory observed in laboratory studies.Overall, the experiments described here demonstrated a novel finding that sleep disruption shapes the effects of TMR, and when sleep disruption is controlled TMR can be used to improve human memory. I also demonstrated that a new system for automated TMR using consumer wearables can be used for TMR outside the sleep lab, expanding the possibilities achievable with TMR.  

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