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Sleep and Memory

Publication date: 06/06/2019

Our memories define us and continuously shape our thoughts and actions through dynamic processes of consolidation and retrieval. Memory processes are not merely the province of our waking life, but continue during sleep. Yet, the relationship between sleep and memory remains an area of active investigation and fascination, evoking deep interest not only in medicine and natural sciences but also in the humanities and arts and in the public domain.

With the aging population and the millions of people afflicted with degenerative neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, society faces a cognitive calamity of enormous magnitude, where the specter of millions of people devoid of memory faculties is a looming threat on the horizon.

Sleep plays an important role in supporting learning and memory, and thus in the shaping of our mental life. Specifically, sleep improves memory consolidation - the transformation of new memories that are formed during wakefulness into stable memories that are integrated into pre-existing long-term memories. This is particularly true for memory for facts (semantic) or events (episodic) that depends on brain regions in and around the brain’s major organ of memory, the hippocampus. Evidence suggests that during slow-wave-sleep, where large slow waves dominate brain activity, declarative hippocampus-dependent memories are consolidated. It is believed that such memory consolidation is mediated by interaction between hippocampal and vast neocortical networks. Another stage of sleep, characterized by rapid eye movements and loss of tone and movement, is associated with dreams, the substance of great human interest and one of the greatest mysteries of the human condition.

As part of the Brain and Society Program of the Institute of Advances Studies, a conference on Sleep and memory was convened in Paris in the Spring of 2019. The goal of the conference is to exchange knowledge and perspectives from different disciplines that converge on this topic, including neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, literature and art.

The meeting aims at (1) advancing and disseminate scientific knowledge on how specific sleep processes aid memory consolidation (2) inspiring science and arts to adopt new approaches to the importance of sleep and dreams (3) benefiting society by promoting awareness for good sleep habits and their effect on cognitive well-being.

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