Beneficial effects of sleep for memory consolidation

Offline consolidation of memory varies with time in slow wave sleep and can be accelerated by cuing memory reactivations.
Diekelmann S, Biggel S, Rasch B, Born J.
Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Volume 98, Issue 2, September 2012, Pages 103–111

Memory representations are reactivated during slow-wave sleep (SWS) after learning, and these reactivations cause a beneficial effect of sleep for memory consolidation. Memory reactivations can also be externally triggered during sleep by associated cues which enhance the sleep-dependent memory consolidation process. Here, we compared in humans the influence of sleep periods (i) of 40min and (ii) of 90min without externally triggered reactivations and (iii) of externally triggered reactivations by an associated odor cue during a 40-min sleep period on the consolidation of previously learned hippocampus-dependent visuo-spatial memories. We show that external reactivation by an odor cue during the 40-min sleep period enhanced memory stability to the same extent as 90min of sleep without odor reactivation. In contrast, 40min of sleep without external reactivations were not sufficient to benefit memory. In the 90-min sleep condition, memory enhancements were associated with time spent in SWS and were independent of the presence or absence of REM sleep. These results suggest that the efficacy of hippocampus-dependent memory consolidation depends on the duration of sleep and particularly SWS. External reactivation cues can accelerate the consolidation process even during shorter sleep episodes.

Sleep enhances emotional memories, preserves emotional intensity

Processing of emotional reactivity and emotional memory over sleep.
Baran B, Pace-Schott EF, Ericson C, Spencer RM.
Journal of Neuroscience. 2012 Jan 18;32(3):1035-42. 

Sleep enhances memories, particularly emotional memories. As such, it has been suggested that sleep deprivation may reduce posttraumatic stress disorder. This presumes that emotional memory consolidation is paralleled by a reduction in emotional reactivity, an association that has not yet been examined. In the present experiment, we used an incidental memory task in humans and obtained valence and arousal ratings during two sessions separated either by 12 h of daytime wake or 12 h including overnight sleep. Recognition accuracy was greater following sleep relative to wake for both negative and neutral pictures. While emotional reactivity to negative pictures was greatly reduced over wake, the negative emotional response was relatively preserved over sleep. Moreover, protection of emotional reactivity was associated with greater time in REM sleep. Recognition accuracy, however, was not associated with REM. Thus, we provide the first evidence that sleep enhances emotional memory while preserving emotional reactivity.

Neuropsychology of dreams

Rev Neurol. 2012 Jul 16;55(2):101-10. 
Tirapu-Ustarroz J.

Dreams are a universal human experience and studying them from the point of view of neuroscience, consciousness, emotions and cognition is quite a challenge for researchers. Thus, dreams have been addressed from a number of different perspectives ranging from philosophy to clinical medicine, as well as psychiatry, psychology, artificial intelligence, neural network models, psychophysiology or neurobiology.

The main models are grounded on the biological function of dreams, especially those based on processes involving the consolidation of memory and forgetting, and models of simulation. Similarly, current models are developed upon the neurobiology and the neuropsychology of the REM phases of sleep and how they are differentiated from wakefulness. Thus, neurobiologically speaking, dreams are related to the role of acetylcholine and, neuropsychologically, to the activation of the limbic and paralimbic regions, the activation of the basal ganglia, the activation of cortical areas with a specific modality (especially Brodmann's areas 19, 22 and 37) and the deactivation of the ventromedial, parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate.

Dreams can be considered a state of consciousness that is characterised by a reduced control over their content, visual images and activation of the memory, and which is mediated by motivational incentives and emotional salience.