Enhancing Benefits of Sleep via Memory Reactivation During Sleep

January 25, 2024
Psychology 1312
Ken Paller, Northwestern University


Professor Ken Paller holds the James Padilla Chair and directs the Training Program in the Neuroscience of Human Cognition at Northwestern University. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, a Senior Fellow with the Mind and Life Institute, and was awarded the Senator Mark Hatfield Award from the Alzheimer’s Association. His past research has focused on human memory and consciousness. His work has contributed to the scientific understanding of conscious memory experiences as well as of memory operations that transpire in the absence of retrieval-awareness, as in intuition, bias, and implicit memory. He has also investigated memory disorders and produced evidence linking memory deficits to poor sleep. His lab’s studies of memory processing during sleep continue to help to elucidate the hidden but critical contributions of sleep to mental abilities, including remembering, solving problems, and cognitive habits that support well-being more generally. Ken has published over 200 scientific articles, reviews, and book chapters (see kenpaller.com for downloadable publications and videos).


Sleep is essential not only for its restorative functions but also for the memory reactivation that occurs covertly during sleep. Consequently, gradual changes in information storage in the brain help to make memories available when needed. We can now study this hidden activity using brain-wave recordings and subtle sensory stimulation during sleep. As we specify more of the relevant neurophysiology, we see how learning depends critically on sleep-based processing. Memory reactivation during sleep both counteracts forgetting and facilitates problem solving, creativity, and emotional regulation. In many people, sleep-based memory processing may be suboptimal, such as when worries are excessively revisited overnight. We recently discovered a remarkable way to engage sleeping individuals in a two-way dialogue while they are dreaming, which offers new strategies for studies of sleep cognition. By learning how to harness these new perspectives on sleep, we can determine how to optimize sleep and modify memory-related brain activity at night, thereby changing the waking mind for the better.

This lecture will take place at 4 pm in Psychology 1312 on the UCSB campus and is free and open to the public.