Considerable evidence support the role of sleep in learning and memory processes. In rodents, the relationships between sleep and memory consolidation have been extensively investigated by taking into account mainly spatial learning. On the contrary, in humans the relationship between sleep and spatial memory consolidation has so far been scarcely taken into account. Here, we investigated the importance of sleep in the consolidation of the spatial memory traces of a new route learned in a real-life unfamiliar environment. Fifty-one subjects followed a defined route in a neighbourhood they had never been to before. Then, they were tested in the laboratory in a sequence-recognition test requiring them to evaluate whether or not sequences of three views, taken along the route, represented a correct sequential order as seen while walking along the route. Participants were then assigned to one of three groups: the sleep group was retested after one night's sleep, the sleep-deprived group was retested after a night of sleep deprivation, and the day-control group was retested the same day after 8 h of wakefulness. At retest, performance speed increased in all groups, whereas the accuracy in the sequence-recognition task was improved only in the sleep group: neither sleep deprivation nor the simple passage of time gave way to any performance improvement. These preliminary findings shed more light on the role of sleep in spatial memory consolidation by extending to humans the considerable evidence found in animals.(c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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