ProjectSleepBalance – Sleep balancing abstraction and forgetting of memory

Basic data

Sleep balancing abstraction and forgetting of memory
01/05/2020 to 30/04/2025
Abstract / short description:
Sleep supports the formation of long-term memory, a function described as an active systems consolidation process. Concurrently, a long tradition of theorizing exists that sleep serves to forget unimportant memory. Paradoxically, the crucial behavioral demonstration that sleep induces forgetting is currently entirely missing. I hypothesize that memory processing during sleep is balanced: Sleep consolidates abstracted schema-like memory and this process is coupled to active forgetting of episodic detail. This twofold function of sleep is most prominently expressed, with a time delay, after learning large amounts of information exhausting the limited capacities of memory processing during sleep. It is particularly pronounced during development when due to a lack of preexisting knowledge, the brain faces conditions of permanent information overload.
I will combine human and rodent studies to test the behavioral predictions of this hypothesis and to characterize the underlying neural mechanisms. Adopting the active systems consolidation framework, I target the following aims:
1) to provide direct behavioral evidence that with high information load, sleep compared to wakefulness induces forgetting of episodic detail in favor of consolidating abstracted schema-like memory.
2) to clarify how memory abstraction and forgetting are linked to slow wave sleep (SWS) and REM sleep, their characteristic EEG oscillations, and underlying forming and pruning of synapses. Specifically, I hypothesize that spindles support memory abstraction whereas slow oscillations, hippocampal ripples and REM theta concurrently contribute to both memory abstraction and forgetting.
3) to demonstrate enhanced sleep-dependent memory abstraction and forgetting during early development.
This project by providing first-time systematic evidence that and how sleep transforms memory to induce forgetting, will greatly advance our understanding of sleep’s memory function and its multiple applications.
Sleep Memory

Involved staff


Institute of Medical Psychology
Non-clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine

Local organizational units

Institute of Medical Psychology
Non-clinical institutes
Faculty of Medicine



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