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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Neuroscience & Behavior

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Healthy aging is associated with a reduction in slow-wave sleep (SWS), crucial for declarative memory consolidation in young adults; consequently, previously observed benefits of sleep on declarative learning in older adults could reflect a passive role of sleep in protecting memories from waking interference, rather than an active, stabilizing effect. To dissociate the passive and active roles of sleep, a visuo-spatial task was administered; memory was probed after a 12 hr interval consisting of either daytime wake or overnight sleep and post-wake/post-sleep stability of the memories was tested following task-related interference. Ninety five older adults (mean=65.43 yrs; SD=7.6 yrs) and 137 young adults (mean= 21.22yrs; SD=2.62 yrs) were tested across either an “Interference” or a “No Interference” condition (without exposure to the interference). In both young and older adults, sleep significantly benefitted performance compared to wake, such that the memories were more resistant to subsequent interference. For young adults, post-sleep performance was correlated with time spent in SWS and delta power density during SWS early in the night. Additionally, the interaction between NREM and REM early in the night played an important role in stabilizing the memories. There were no significant correlations between sleep parameters and over-sleep performance changes in older adults; however, high performing older adults benefitted from greater amounts of REM sleep early in the night, and from the interaction between NREM and REM during this time period. These results suggest that the active role of sleep in declarative memory consolidation persists in an aging population.


First Advisor

Rebecca M.C. Spencer