Let Sleeping Dogs Lie: It Helps Them Consolidate Memories

Want to teach an old dog new tricks? Try letting your pet take a nap. New research finds that dogs consolidate new memories in sleep, just like humans do.
The study used electroencephalography (EEG), a technique that measures electrical activity in the brain via the scalp, to track snoozing dogs’ brain activity. Similar to humans, the dogs showed short bursts of activity, called sleep spindles, during non-rapid-eye-movement sleep. Also as in humans, the frequency of these sleep spindles was linked to how well a dog retained new information it had learned before its nap.
“It’s the first time that we can actually show this in a dog,” said study co-author Ivaylo Iotchev, a doctoral student at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary.

Sleep spindles are also an interesting area of research because they’re related to learning and memory, Iotchev said. Sleep spindles are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that last about half a second, with a frequency of about 12 to 14 hertz in humans. These bursts block information from the thalamus, a chunk of gray matter in the forebrain that acts to relay sensory information, from reaching the cortex for more sophisticated processing.
“When sleep spindles happen, the brain is being shielded from outside information,” Iotchev said, “which is very important for memory consolidation, because when you want to remember something, you don’t want it to mix with outside information.
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