The role of sleep spindles and slow-wave activity in integrating new information in semantic memory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Assimilating new information into existing knowledge is a fundamental part of consolidating new memories and allowing them to guide behavior optimally and is vital for conceptual knowledge (semantic memory), which is accrued over many years. Sleep is important for memory consolidation, but its impact upon assimilation of new information into existing semantic knowledge has received minimal examination. Here, we examined the integration process by training human participants on novel words with meanings that fell into densely or sparsely populated areas of semantic memory in two separate sessions. Overnight sleep was polysomnographically monitored after each training session and recall was tested immediately after training, after a night of sleep, and 1 week later. Results showed that participants learned equal numbers of both word types, thus equating amount and difficulty of learning across the conditions. Measures of word recognition speed showed a disadvantage for novel words in dense semantic neighborhoods, presumably due to interference from many semantically related concepts, suggesting that the novel words had been successfully integrated into semantic memory. Most critically, semantic neighborhood density influenced sleep architecture, with participants exhibiting more sleep spindles and slow-wave activity after learning the sparse compared with the dense neighborhood words. These findings provide the first evidence that spindles and slow-wave activity mediate integration of new information into existing semantic networks. © 2013 the authors.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15376-15381
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number39
Publication statusPublished - 2013