Speak Memory: Sleep May Erase Memories

Shutterstock_2820822Scientific American reports that for some 40 years, neuroscientists have believed that the brain forms memories by using a "sketch pad" to quickly record experiences and information learned throughout the day.

Researchers at Brown University and the Max Planck Institute in Copenhagan believe that rather than memories being transferred to the neocortex during sleep, they speculate that memories are stored in both the neocortex and the hippocampus. Then, during sleep, the hippocampus, acting as a temporary storage system, is cleared for another day of learning, while the memories are retained in the neocortex, which provides permanent storage much like a computer hard disk.

Bruce McNaughton, director of the Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging at the University of Arizona, believes that "the bottom line here is that this is a very very complicated system," he says, adding that he expects it to take another 20 years before the science community fully understands exactly how memories are formed and stored.

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