Autonomic activity during a daytime nap facilitates working memory improvement

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
P.-C. ChenSara C Mednick


Recent investigations have implicated the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in higher-order executive functions. These actions are purported to occur through ANS modulation of the prefrontal cortex, with parasympathetic activity during wake associated with working memory ability (WM). Compared with wake, sleep is a period with substantially greater parasympathetic tone. Recent work has reported that sleep may also contribute to improvement in WM. Here, we examined the role of cardiac parasympathetic activity during sleep on WM improvement in healthy young adults. Participants were tested in an operation span task (OSpan) in the morning and evening, and during the inter-test period subjects either experienced a nap or wake. We measured high frequency heart rate variability (HF HRV) as an index of cardiac, parasympathetic activity during both wake and sleep. Participants showed the expected boost in parasympathetic activity during nap, compared with wake, as well as greater WM improvement after a nap compared with an equivalent period awake. Furthermore, parasympathetic activity during sleep, but not wake, was significantly correlated with WM improvement. Together these results indicate that the natural...Continue Reading

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