The riddle of experience vs. memory

Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman talks about happiness from a perspective of experience and remembering.

Sleep depotentiates prior emotional experiences/painful memories

REM Sleep Depotentiates Amygdala Activity to Previous Emotional Experiences
Current Biology, 23 November 2011 (Link)
Els van der Helm, Justin Yao, Shubir Dutt, Vikram Rao, Jared M. Saletin, Matthew P. Walker

  • Sleep decreases amygdala activity to prior waking emotional experiences 
  • The amygdala decrease is associated with reestablished prefrontal connectivity 
  • These neural changes are accompanied by overnight reductions in subjective reactivity 
  • Reductions in both brain and behavioral reactivity are associated with REM physiology 
Summary: Clinical evidence suggests a potentially causal interaction between sleep and affective brain function; nearly all mood disorders display co-occurring sleep abnormalities, commonly involving rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. Building on this clinical evidence, recent neurobiological frameworks have hypothesized a benefit of REM sleep in palliatively decreasing next-day brain reactivity to recent waking emotional experiences. Specifically, the marked suppression of central adrenergic neurotransmitters during REM (commonly implicated in arousal and stress), coupled with activation in amygdala-hippocampal networks that encode salient events, is proposed to (re)process and depotentiate previous affective experiences, decreasing their emotional intensity. In contrast, the failure of such adrenergic reduction during REM sleep has been described in anxiety disorders, indexed by persistent high-frequency electroencephalographic (EEG) activity; a candidate factor contributing to hyperarousal and exaggerated amygdala reactivity. Despite these neurobiological frameworks, and their predictions, the proposed benefit of REM sleep physiology in depotentiating neural and behavioral responsivity to prior emotional events remains unknown. Here, we demonstrate that REM sleep physiology is associated with an overnight dissipation of amygdala activity in response to previous emotional experiences, altering functional connectivity and reducing next-day subjective emotionality.

Preferential benefits of sleep

Sleep-Dependent Facilitation of Episodic Memory Details
PLoS ONE 6(11): e27421. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027421 (Link)
Els van der Helm, Ninad Gujar, Masaki Nishida, Matthew P. Walker

While a role for sleep in declarative memory processing is established, the qualitative nature of this consolidation benefit, and the physiological mechanisms mediating it, remain debated. Here, we investigate the impact of sleep physiology on characteristics of episodic memory using an item- (memory elements) and context- (contextual details associated with those elements) learning paradigm; the latter being especially dependent on the hippocampus. Following back-to-back encoding of two word lists, each associated with a different context, participants were assigned to either a Nap-group, who obtained a 120-min nap, or a No Nap-group. Six hours post-encoding, participants performed a recognition test involving item-memory and context-memory judgments. In contrast to item-memory, which demonstrated no between-group differences, a significant benefit in context-memory developed in the Nap-group, the extent of which correlated both with the amount of stage-2 NREM sleep and frontal fast sleep-spindles. Furthermore, a difference was observed on the basis of word-list order, with the sleep benefit and associated physiological correlations being selective for the second word-list, learned last (most proximal to sleep). These findings suggest that sleep may preferentially benefit contextual (hippocampal-dependent) aspects of memory, supported by sleep-spindle oscillations, and that the temporal order of initial learning differentially determines subsequent offline consolidation.

How Best to Optimize Memory

To sleep, to strive, or both: how best to optimize memory
PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21737. Epub 2011 Jul 20. (Link)
Matthew A. Tucker, Sunny X. Tang, Amaka Uzoh, Alexandra Morgan, Robert Stickgold

While numerous studies have shown that a night of sleep profits memory relative to wake, we still have little understanding about what factors mediate this effect of sleep. A clear understanding of the dynamics of this effect of sleep beyond the initial night of sleep is also lacking. Here, we examined the effect of extrinsic rewards on sleep-dependent declarative memory processing across 12 and 24 hr training-retest intervals. Subjects were either paid based on their performance at retest ($1 for each correct answer), or received a flat fee for participation. After a 12 hr interval we observed pronounced benefits of both sleep and reward on memory. Over an extended 24 hr interval we found 1) that an initial night of sleep partially protects memories from subsequent deterioration during wake, and 2) that sleep blocks further deterioration, and may even have a restorative effect on memory, when it follows a full day of wake. Interestingly, the benefit imparted to rewarded (relative to unrewarded) stimuli was equal for sleep and wake subjects, suggesting that the sleeping brain may not differentially process rewarded information, relative to wake. However, looking at the overall impact of sleep relative to reward in this protocol, it was apparent that sleep both imparted a stronger mnemonic boost than reward, and provided a benefit to memory regardless of whether it occurred in the first or the second 12 hrs following task training.