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Sleep can be an effective memory enhancer.

Sleep can be an effective memory enhancer.

While the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia has led to substantial research into memory loss as it relates to these condition, even individuals who don't suffer from such ailments may be looking for ways to improve their recollection and promote overall brain health. After all, some degree of memory loss is natural as the years go on, and it becomes more difficult to recall the name of an old family friend or the details of a film plot.  

As such, researchers from Northwestern University have been experimenting with day-to-day memory retention techniques. According to the university's website, scientists have found that a process called memory rehearsal – which can take place consciously or during sleep – may help solidify certain events and better preserve them.

Generally, the source states that people naturally ruminate over "high-value" memories – such as those related to making money. However, more conscious effort is necessary to cement lower value events and ideas in this way.

To determine this, the scientists asked individuals to take part in a memory test during which they had to accurately recall the location of certain objects on a computer screen. Each item, the article states, was assigned a different monetary value to establish its worth, and was also accompanied by a related sound.

When the participants slept, the researchers played these sounds intermittently to determine if doing so could increase the value, and therefore the recollection – of the items that were worth less.

"We think that what's happening during sleep is basically the reactivation of that information," said postdoctoral fellow and lead study author Delphine Oudiette. "We can provoke the reactivation by presenting those sounds, therefore energizing the low-value memories so they get stored better."

Oudiette and her colleagues found that much of the rehearsal required to promote long-term this retention occurs during sleep, so learning ways to take advantage of this process could have substantial benefits as a memory enhancer.

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