Skip to main content

Zapping your brain while you sleep could actually improve your memory

Technologies like Elon Musk’s proposed Neuralink promise augmentation of the human memory, courtesy of a special brain chip. If you’re not quite ready to dive into the world of brain implants to improve your memory function, however, you might appreciate a piece of research carried out recently by scientists at the Society for Neuroscience.

They have demonstrated a noninvasive overnight brain stimulation technique that promises to improve people’s ability to remember things. And you won’t have to worry about an overzealous engineer taking a miniature hacksaw to your skull – this technique won’t even disturb your sleep!

Related Videos

“We have shown that we can improve the integration of recent experiences into a more general form of memory through the process of sleep-dependent consolidation,” Dr. Nicholas Ketz, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “We do this by selectively enhancing the natural slow-wave oscillations that occur during sleep, which are essential in this consolidation processes. Further, we’ve shown that we can use a fully closed-loop system that automatically detects these oscillations and stimulates at the matching frequency and phase of the ongoing slow waves, greatly improving our ability to influence the underlying brain state and thus the consolidation process.”

Participants in the researchers’ study were trained and then tested on a visual discrimination task in which they had to identify objects and people in a scene. Those who had been given the brain stimulation while sleeping were noticeably better at detecting those same targets in similar, but novel, situations.

Ketz said that there is still further work to be done, though.

“While the average response across the group of participants shows increased performance and enhanced slow-wave oscillations, many participants showed varying degrees of responsiveness to the intervention,” he said. “Future work related to this approach would try to understand, within each individual, how to minimize the duration of the intervention, and maximize the response to stimulation.”

This isn’t the first time the power of brain stimulation has been shown off in experiments. Previous research has suggested that a quick brain jolt could help with everything from improving creativity to curbing Tourette syndrome tics or weaning people off heroin.

A paper describing this latest memory-improving work was recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Editors' Recommendations

Here are some volume-limiting headphones your kids might actually wear
A girl wearing Happy Plugs Play headphones.

Swedish audio company Happy Plugs has a new set of Bluetooth headphones aimed at the 3- to 15-year-old crowd. And while the $80 Happy Plugs Play might be intended for kids, they look just like a set of regular adult headphones -- in fact, they bear a strong resemblance to Bose's high-end Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. And that could make all the difference when it comes to getting kids to wear them.

The Happy Plugs Play are volume-limiting, which means that their maximum volume level has been capped at 85 decibels (dB), the widely agreed-upon upper limit for safe listening. Given what we know of the long-term impact of listening to loud sounds -- known as Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) -- it's really important to ensure that children use their headphones safely. Trouble is, like most things that are safe or good for us, volume-limiting headphones for kids tend to look childish or cheap -- or both. These designs might be accepted by the very youngest children, but older kids have much more sophisticated tastes.

Read more
When standing isn’t enough, the NextErgo will have you doing yoga at your desk
downward facing dog at your nextergo standing desk 07

Sitting is the new smoking, according to some fairly recent research. This idea helped lead to the rise of the standing desk, but if you aren't moving around enough, standing isn't much better than sitting. Offering oa solution is the NextErgo, an A.I.-powered standing desk that features an eight-inch touchscreen and can adjusted based on height. The NextErgo ensures your posture is correct -- all while tracking the amount of time you spend both sitting and standing.

Your desk will hold you accountable. Built-in presence detectors won't let you lie to yourself about how long you've spent at your desk, while hand-level sensors ensure your desk is in exactly the right ergonomic position to prevent unnecessary hand strain. An included touchscreen provides regular reminders to stand and move around. It's about more than just health; standing up and moving can get the blood pumping and help you think more clearly.

Read more
Clever ‘nerve hacking’ prosthetic tricks your brain to make limbs feel lighter
Neuro leg experiment

As technology advances, it also typically shrinks in size. The first video cameras were enormous, bulky devices that felt like you were carrying around a shot put on your shoulder. Today, you can get superior recording quality on a smartphone that’s thinner than a deck of cards, and weighs about as much -- or as little.

In some cases, however, there’s a limit to how much you can shrink a piece of technology and still have it be useful. A prosthetic leg for an amputee might be slimmed down to a certain degree, but it still needs to stay at a certain size in order to function as a prosthetic leg. Likewise, reducing the weight of the prosthesis can be achieved by using more lightweight materials, although weight reductions are ultimately limited by the size constraints.

Read more