The memory function of sleep

Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11, 114-126 (February 2010) 
Susanne Diekelmann & Jan Born

Sleep has been identified as a state that optimizes the consolidation of newly acquired information in memory, depending on the specific conditions of learning and the timing of sleep. Consolidation during sleep promotes both quantitative and qualitative changes of memory representations. Through specific patterns of neuromodulatory activity and electric field potential oscillations, slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep support system consolidation and synaptic consolidation, respectively. During SWS, slow oscillations, spindles and ripples - at minimum cholinergic activity - coordinate the re-activation and redistribution of hippocampus-dependent memories to neocortical sites, whereas during REM sleep, local increases in plasticity-related immediate-early gene activity - at high cholinergic and theta activity - might favour the subsequent synaptic consolidation of memories in the cortex.