Front. Syst. Neurosci., 02 April 2014 |

Sleep for cognitive enhancement

  • Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany

Sleep is essential for effective cognitive functioning. Loosing even a few hours of sleep can have detrimental effects on a wide variety of cognitive processes such as attention, language, reasoning, decision making, learning and memory. While sleep is necessary to ensure normal healthy cognitive functioning, it can also enhance performance beyond the boundaries of the normal condition. This article discusses the enhancing potential of sleep, mainly focusing on the domain of learning and memory. Sleep is known to facilitate the consolidation of memories learned before sleep as well as the acquisition of new memories to be learned after sleep. According to a widely held model this beneficial effect of sleep relies on the neuronal reactivation of memories during sleep that is associated with sleep-specific brain oscillations (slow oscillations, spindles, ripples) as well as a characteristic neurotransmitter milieu. Recent research indicates that memory processing during sleep can be boosted by (i) cueing memory reactivation during sleep; (ii) stimulating sleep-specific brain oscillations; and (iii) targeting specific neurotransmitter systems pharmacologically. Olfactory and auditory cues can be used, for example, to increase reactivation of associated memories during post-learning sleep. Intensifying neocortical slow oscillations (the hallmark of slow wave sleep (SWS)) by electrical or auditory stimulation and modulating specific neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline and glutamate likewise facilitates memory processing during sleep. With this evidence in mind, this article concludes by discussing different methodological caveats and ethical issues that should be considered when thinking about using sleep for cognitive enhancement in everyday applications.

Keywords: sleep, cognitive enhancement, memory, learning, reactivation, brain stimulation, pharmacology, ethics

Citation: Diekelmann S (2014) Sleep for cognitive enhancement. Front. Syst. Neurosci. 8:46. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00046

Received: 09 January 2014; Accepted: 13 March 2014;
Published online: 02 April 2014.

Edited by:

Mikhail Lebedev, Duke University, USA

Reviewed by:

Jessica Payne, University of Notre Dame, USA
Daniel Bendor, University College London, UK
Ivan N. Pigarev, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia

Copyright © 2014 Diekelmann. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Susanne Diekelmann, Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University Tübingen, Otfried-Müller-Str. 25, CIN Building, 72076 Tübingen, Germany e-mail: