There is robust evidence that sleep facilitates procedural memory consolidation. The exact mechanisms underlying this process are still unclear. We tested whether an active replay of prior experience can underlie sleep effects on procedural memory. Participants learned a finger-tapping task in which key presses were associated with tones during practice. Later, during a consolidation interval spent either sleeping or awake, we presented auditory cues to reactivate part of the learned sequence. We show that reactivation strengthens procedural memory formation during sleep, but not during wakefulness. The improvement was restricted to those finger transitions that were cued. Thus, reactivation is a very specific process underpinning procedural memory consolidation. When comparing periods of sleep with and without reactivation, we find that it is not the time spent in a specific stage of sleep per se, but rather the occurrence of reactivation that mediates the effect of sleep on memory consolidation. Our data show that longer sleep time as well as additional reactivation by cueing during sleep can enhance later memory performance.

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