Sleep has been shown to promote memory consolidation driven by certain oscillatory patterns, such as sleep spindles. However, sleep does not consolidate all newly encoded information uniformly but rather “selects” certain memories for consolidation. It is assumed that such selection depends on salience tags attached to the new memories before sleep. However, little is known about the underlying neuronal processes reflecting presleep memory tagging. The current study sought to address the question of whether event-related changes in spectral theta power (theta ERSP) during presleep memory formation could reflect memory tagging that influences subsequent consolidation during sleep. Twenty-four participants memorized 160 word pairs before sleep; in a separate laboratory visit, they performed a nonlearning control task. Memory performance was tested twice, directly before and after 8 hr of sleep. Results indicate that participants who improved their memory performance overnight displayed stronger theta ERSP during the memory task in comparison with the control task. They also displayed stronger memory task-related increases in fast sleep spindle activity. Furthermore, presleep theta activity was directly linked to fast sleep spindle activity, indicating that processes during memory formation might indeed reflect memory tagging that influences subsequent consolidation during sleep. Interestingly, our results further indicate that the suggested relation between sleep spindles and overnight performance change is not as direct as once believed. Rather, it appears to be mediated by processes beginning during presleep memory formation. We conclude that theta ERSP during presleep memory formation reflects cortico-hippocampal interactions that lead to a better long-term accessibility by tagging memories for sleep spindle-related reprocessing.

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