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Gentle Brain Stimulation Can Improve Memory During Sleep

It may one day help treat Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s

While we're asleep at night, our brain is doing something incredible. The hippocampus and the neocortex, two of its key regions, talk back and forth, processing information for long-term storage—what's known as memory consolidation. Catching Z's, as it turns out, is critical for building our mental library.

"During sleep, a magical process happens," said Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In a study recently published in Nature Neuroscience, Fried and his team have discovered that this process can be hacked. By gently stimulating the brain's frontal lobe (part of the neocortex) in sync with the electrical waves of the hippocampus during sleep, the team improved the accuracy of recognition memory—the ability to recognize things previously encountered—in patients with epilepsy. They hope that this sort of stimulation might one day help improve memory for people with other brain disorders—like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

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