October 25, 2008
Sleep Deprivation Enhances False Memory Retrieval

In a Plos One paper some Swiss and German researchers report in a paper entitled Sleep Loss Produces False Memories that sleep deprivation at time of retrieval enhanced false memories. Don't trust your memories when you are tired. Caffeine prevents the inaccurate retrievals.

People sometimes claim with high confidence to remember events that in fact never happened, typically due to strong semantic associations with actually encoded events. Sleep is known to provide optimal neurobiological conditions for consolidation of memories for long-term storage, whereas sleep deprivation acutely impairs retrieval of stored memories. Here, focusing on the role of sleep-related memory processes, we tested whether false memories can be created (a) as enduring memory representations due to a consolidation-associated reorganization of new memory representations during post-learning sleep and/or (b) as an acute retrieval-related phenomenon induced by sleep deprivation at memory testing. According to the Deese, Roediger, McDermott (DRM) false memory paradigm, subjects learned lists of semantically associated words (e.g., “night”, “dark”, “coal”,…), lacking the strongest common associate or theme word (here: “black”). Subjects either slept or stayed awake immediately after learning, and they were either sleep deprived or not at recognition testing 9, 33, or 44 hours after learning. Sleep deprivation at retrieval, but not sleep following learning, critically enhanced false memories of theme words. This effect was abolished by caffeine administration prior to retrieval, indicating that adenosinergic mechanisms can contribute to the generation of false memories associated with sleep loss.

Researchers at the Washington University Memory Lab have shown that to optimize learning it is better to be tested on material than to study material a second time. Retrieval enhances memory consolidation. Also, there are optimal intervals for retesting. Well, my guess is that if you try to get tested when you are tired you'll not just recall less correctly then but also reduce the accuracy of future attempts to recall the same material. So sleep well before getting tested.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 October 25 10:11 PM  Brain Memory

Ramez Naam said at October 26, 2008 12:44 PM:

You could have stated this as: When sleep deprived, people will generalize. - Ramez Naam

Greg said at October 27, 2008 11:25 AM:

Coffee, the wonder drug.

I've often wondered if we could quantify the marginal added productivity benefit provided by caffeine in the modern world. How much additional work does it provide our society. It must be significant.

AnAverageAmerican said at October 27, 2008 7:52 PM:

Yeah, but think of the poor, deprived, Colombians sweltering in the mountains picking your coffee beans.

Wait ... never mind ... they're chewing coca leaves.

Bruce said at October 28, 2008 3:53 AM:

This article confirms for me what I've always suggested to my kids, that it's better to get some sleep after studying than to cram all night.

As an aside, I find it disturbing and interesting that all the "Ads By Google" associated and automatically generated for this page have to do with child molestation and sex crime lawyers.... Is it the "False Memories" words in the article? Scary.

Bob Badour said at October 28, 2008 2:53 PM:


From what I recall, caffeine reduces productivity even when it speeds up task completion because it increases the error rate.

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