Exploring Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation in Preschoolers


Sleep is important for memory. This may be especially true in early childhood, when sleep demands are high. In fact, previous research has shown that, when preschool children who typically nap are prevented from doing so, their learning and memory suffers. However, the specific benefits of sleep for memory and the neural mechanisms associated with these benefits are still unclear. For example, does sleep benefit memory generally or certain kinds of memory (e.g., memory for specific details vs memory for general items). Does sleep simply “protect” memories or can it ”enhance” them? To begin to address these questions, we are investigating how sleep impacts memory in early childhood. We will investigate the impact of an afternoon nap and subsequent overnight sleep on memory performance. The study will (eventually) enroll 180 preschool-aged children (3.0-5 years) who are habitual nappers (children who nap at least five times a week). Each child will complete the Mnemonic Similarity Task (MST) to evaluate precision and generalized memory across a wake condition, nap condition and overnight sleep condition. The MST is a variant of a traditional recognition memory task that includes perceptually similar examples of studied items as lures. This task will allow us to explore the types of memories that are impacted by sleep and the type of impact made. For data analysis, the Lure Discrimination Index (LDI) will be calculated from the MST data in order to measure precision memory performance. We will compare LDI to standard metrics of memory, such as corrected recognition scores, which measure general memory. From this investigation we hope to further understand the impact of sleep on memory in young children. To date, 7 participants have provided data, and data collection is still ongoing with an estimated sample size of 20 by the time of this presentation.