There is a long-standing assumption that low noradrenergic activity during sleep reflects mainly the low arousal during this brain state. Nevertheless, recent research has demonstrated that the locus coeruleus, which is the main source of cortical noradrenaline, displays discrete periods of intense firing during non-REM sleep, without any signs of awakening. This transient locus coeruleus activation during sleep seems to occur in response to preceding learning-related episodes. In the present study, we manipulate noradrenergic activity during sleep in humans with either the α2-autoreceptor agonist clonidine or the noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor reboxetine. We show that reducing noradrenergic activity during sleep, but not during wakefulness, impairs subsequent memory performance in an odor recognition task. Increasing noradrenergic availability during sleep, in contrast, enhances memory retention. We conclude that noradrenergic activity during non-REM sleep interacts with other sleep-related mechanisms to functionally contribute to off-line memory consolidation.

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