Good sleep = good memory

Prefrontal atrophy, disrupted NREM slow waves and impaired hippocampal-dependent memory in aging
Bryce A Mander, Vikram Rao, Brandon Lu, Jared M Saletin, John R Lindquist, Sonia Ancoli-Israel, William Jagust & Matthew P Walker
Nature Neuroscience (2013) 

Aging has independently been associated with regional brain atrophy, reduced slow wave activity (SWA) during non–rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and impaired long-term retention of episodic memories. However, whether the interaction of these factors represents a neuropatholgical pathway associated with cognitive decline in later life remains unknown. We found that age-related medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) gray-matter atrophy was associated with reduced NREM SWA in older adults, the extent to which statistically mediated the impairment of overnight sleep–dependent memory retention. Moreover, this memory impairment was further associated with persistent hippocampal activation and reduced task-related hippocampal-prefrontal cortex functional connectivity, potentially representing impoverished hippocampal-neocortical memory transformation. Together, these data support a model in which age-related mPFC atrophy diminishes SWA, the functional consequence of which is impaired long-term memory. Such findings suggest that sleep disruption in the elderly, mediated by structural brain changes, represents a contributing factor to age-related cognitive decline in later life.

Sleep-dependent memory processing

Sleep-dependent memory triage: evolving generalization through selective processing
Robert Stickgold & Matthew P Walker
Nature Neuroscience 16, 139–145 (2013) 

The brain does not retain all the information it encodes in a day. Much is forgotten, and of those memories retained, their subsequent evolution can follow any of a number of pathways. Emerging data makes clear that sleep is a compelling candidate for performing many of these operations. But how does the sleeping brain know which information to preserve and which to forget? What should sleep do with that information it chooses to keep? For information that is retained, sleep can integrate it into existing memory networks, look for common patterns and distill overarching rules, or simply stabilize and strengthen the memory exactly as it was learned. We suggest such 'memory triage' lies at the heart of a sleep-dependent memory processing system that selects new information, in a discriminatory manner, and assimilates it into the brain's vast armamentarium of evolving knowledge, helping guide each organism through its own, unique life

Protecting recent memories against emotional contextual interference

Sleep unbinds memories from their emotional context
Deliens G, Gilson M, Schmitz R, Peigneux P.
Cerebral Cortex, Dec 2012 

Consistent evidence nowadays indicates that sleep protects declarative memory from lexical interference. However, little is known about its effect against emotional interference. In a within-subject counterbalanced design, participants learned a list of word pairs after a mood induction procedure (MIP), then slept or stayed awake during the post-learning night. After two recovery nights, half of the list was recalled after a similar mood induction than at the encoding session (no interference condition) and the other half after a different mood induction (interference condition). Amongst participants for whom the MIP was effective, an emotional interference effect appeared only in the sleep-deprived condition, with a lower recall of word pairs subjected to contextual interference than of the other pairs. These findings support the hypothesis of a decoupling between memories and their "affective blanket" during post-learning sleep, protecting recent memories against emotional contextual interference.

REM sleep necessary for emotional memory consolidation

The role of REM sleep in the processing of emotional memories: Evidence from behavior and event-related potentials
S. Groch, I. Wilhelm, S. Diekelmann, J. Born
Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Volume 99, January 2013, Pages 1–9

Emotional memories are vividly remembered for the long-term. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep has been repeatedly proposed to support the superior retention of emotional memories. However, its exact contribution and, specifically, whether its effect is mainly on the consolidation of the contents or the processing of the affective component of emotional memories is not clear. Here, we investigated the effects of sleep rich in slow wave sleep (SWS) or REM sleep on the consolidation of emotional pictures and the accompanying changes in affective tone, using event-related potentials (ERPs) together with subjective ratings of valence and arousal. Sixteen healthy, young men learned 50 negative and 50 neutral pictures before 3-h retention sleep intervals that were filled with either SWS-rich early or REM sleep-rich late nocturnal sleep. In accordance with our hypothesis, recognition was better for emotional pictures than neutral pictures after REM compared to SWS-rich sleep. This emotional enhancement after REM-rich sleep expressed itself in an increased late positive potential of the ERP over the frontal cortex 300–500 ms after stimulus onset for correctly classified old emotional pictures compared with new emotional and neutral pictures. Valence and arousal ratings of emotional pictures were not differentially affected by REM or SWS-rich sleep after learning. Our results corroborate that REM sleep contributes to the consolidation of emotional contents in memory, but suggest that the affective tone is preserved rather than reduced by the processing of emotional memories during REM sleep.