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For a good memory, dream on.

You've been asleep for about an hour, and you're having a really great dream about piloting the space shuttle. There's just one problem: The control panel keeps making a ringing sound, and you can't find the right button to shut it off. Slowly, as you emerge from layers of sweet slumber, you realize that the ringing isn't occurring in your dream -- it's the phone on your bedside table.

Beware, you may have just lost some of your memory.

A new study suggests that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep -- the sleep stage during which you dream -- plays an important role in consolidating the day's events into memory.

Avi Karni of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues have found that people don't remember a learned task as well if they are awakened each time they enter REM sleep. In contrast, waking someone during non-REM sleep -- which constitutes roughly three-fourths of sleeping time -- has no effect on their ability to remember the task, the researchers determined.

Karni -- now on a fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. -- and his colleagues trained four volunteers to recognize patterns of horizontal and diagonal lines portrayed on a computer screen a few hours before the subjects went to bed. The researchers found that the volunteers could perform the task faster the next morning if they'd had a good night's sleep.

However, when Karni's group awakened the subjects each time they entered REM sleep, they did no better on the pattern-recognition task the next day than they had the night before. Conversely, the morning after they were awakened during non-REM sleep, they did just as well as when they had slept undisturbed, the Israeli researchers discovered.

Karni and his colleagues conclude that REM sleep, and perhaps dreaming itself, cements memories in the brain. Next, they plan to study whether some psychoactive drugs that are known to disrupt REM sleep may also impair memory.
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Title Annotation:rapid eye movement in sleep affects memory
Author:Ezzell, Carol
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 14, 1992
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