A group of researchers from University of New Mexico recently developed a noninvasive brain stimulation technique that improved patients’ memory while they were sleeping. This process aims to provide additional stimulation that accelerates natural memory consolidation occurring during sleep.
In their study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the team presented 16 patients with still images of complex visual scenes prior before they went to sleep. Patients were asked to identify threatening objects like bombers, snipers, and explosives that were hidden as fruits, dead animals, and various other objects within the images. After their baseline scores were recorded for this test prior to sleeping, the patients underwent 3 non-consecutive nights of sleep in the lab while wearing an electrode cap and were
administered closed-loop slow-wave transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) while sleeping. The patients were given a similar visual test the following morning to evaluate performance improvement after the brain stimulation.
The researchers found that the patients detected targets at a higher rate after receiving tACS overnight compared to the nights they did not. These results not only suggest that the tACS technique can improve long-term memory consolidation, but that electrical stimulation of the brain can be administered without disrupting sleep as well.
Using brain stimulation to potentially overcome deficits in memory consolidation could have a strong impact in the treatment of many conditions. If this technique could be utilized to assist those with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, it may present as a convenient, noninvasive way to improve their memory. Though this technique must be subjected to extensive research before it can be concluded that it truly improves patients’ memory, these results establish an intriguing concept that large-scale studies can extend and build upon.