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Sound & Memory

April 22, 2013

Playing soundwaves synchronized with a person’s own deep sleep rhythms may improve short-term memory.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Sound and memory. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(SFX: “Pink noise” stimuli)

Scientists have found that playing sounds like this to people during deep sleep can enhance their short-term memory. Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, helps reinforce our memories from the previous day. University of Tübingen researchers had volunteers memorize lists of paired words before bedtime. While they slept, the scientists played them sounds that were synchronized with their own slow-wave brain rhythms. Neuroscientist Jan Born explains.

JAN BORN (University of Tübingen):

This enhances the brain oscillatory activity, like when you push a swing in the right moment.

HIRSHON:

The next day, the volunteers remembered the word associations better than when either no sound was played or when sounds were played that were out-of-synch with their brain rhythms. In addition to boosting short-term memory, the research could be used in the treatment of sleep disorders or even epilepsy. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society. 

An electroencephalogram of slow-wave sleep. (Mr Sandman/Wikipedia)