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In mice, at least, uninterrupted sleep is critical for memory

Ask any parent of a newborn baby and they'll tell you that interrupted sleep is the pits: It can leave you feeling cranky, weary and in desperate search of the nearest Starbucks the next day. But can it also hurt your memory?

Seeking to answer that question, a team of Stanford researchers turned to optogenetics to study the effect of sleep continuity on memory in mice. Using the light-based technique to manipulate brain cells (I explain how in a release), the researchers showed that fragmented sleep caused memory impairment in the animals.

To conclude from the work that humans need a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep in order to preserve memory would be "a bit of a stretch," co-lead author Luis de Lucea, PhD, recently told me. But the study, which appears online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is significant for several reasons.

The findings suggest that memory problems experienced by patients with certain disorders - like alcoholism and sleep apnea - may be connected with the fragmented sleep connected with those conditions. And because it demonstrates a new, non-invasive way for researchers to investigate specific aspects of sleep in animal models, the work paves the way for future studies on sleep's effect on the brain.

Previously: Optogenetics: Offering new insights into brain disorders and Jet-lagged hamsters flunk IQ test
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