Measuring Neural Mechanisms Underlying Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation During Naps in Early Childhood

* These authors contributed equally
This article has been accepted and is currently in production


Sleep is critical for daily functioning. One important function of sleep is the consolidation of memories, a process that makes them stronger and less vulnerable to interference. The neural mechanisms underlying the benefit of sleep for memory can be investigated using polysomnography (PSG). PSG is a combination of physiological recordings including signals from the brain (EEG), eyes (EOG), and muscles (EMG) that are used to classify sleep stages. In this protocol, we describe how PSG can be used in conjunction with behavioral memory assessments, actigraphy, and parent-report to examine sleep-dependent memory consolidation. The focus of this protocol is on early childhood, a period of significance as children transition from biphasic sleep (consisting of a nap and overnight sleep) to monophasic sleep (overnight sleep only). The effects of sleep on memory performance are measured using a visuospatial memory assessment across periods of sleep and wakeful-rest. A combination of actigraphy and parent report is used to assess sleep rhythms (i.e., characterizing children as habitual or non-habitual nappers). Finally, PSG is used to characterize sleep stages and qualities of those stages (such as frequencies and the presence of spindles) during naps. The advantage of using PSG is that it is the only tool currently available to assess sleep quality and sleep architecture, pointing to the relevant brain state that supports memory consolidation. The main limitations of PSG are the length of time it takes to prepare the recording montage and that recordings are typically taken over one sleep bought. These limitations can be overcome by engaging young participants in distracting tasks during application and combining PSG with actigraphy and self/parent-report measures to characterize sleep cycles. Together, this unique combination of methods allows for investigations into how naps support learning in preschool children.