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Improving Memory Formation during Sleep: The Journey Begins!

From the Lab Journal: Artistic Representation of the Sleep Kit

Can we enhance our learning and improve memory recall during sleep? Apparently, sleep does have secret powers! It has been recently discovered that such magic can happen through targeted memory reactivation during sleep. Studies have shown that by associating a sound cue while learning to perform a specific task, you can then play that cue while the subject is sleeping to strengthen their memory of that task! Studies have found that this cuing during sleep helps strengthen memory consolidation and recall, compared to subjects who don’t receive the sleep cue. The cue can also be any other form of stimulus, like a distinctive odor for instance.

There’s more! The cues were shown to be more effective if played in a specific sleep cycle; the slow-wave phase. To coordinate this cue, the researchers need to detect when the subject reaches this slow-wave phase of sleep, so they use the patient’s EEG signal (their brain wave recordings).  My project aims to create a DIY replication of these fascinating findings, so people can test these hypotheses on their own and come up with their own experiments. The end goal is to create a functional “mini sleep lab” using a mobile application and the BYB EEG headband/SpikeShield.

Flow Char to Illustrate the process: Start Upper Left


Decoding the EEG signals to analyze and detect the slow-wave sleep cycle will be the most challenging part of the project. I will be using Deep Neural Networks (DNN) as a starter to perform this task. Once achieved, I will be moving into creating the app that will have the learning tasks and cues for the user to apply.

I am really excited to work on this project over the summer, and I believe this fellowship will help me build on my skills and implement my knowledge to share it with students and neuroscience enthusiasts!

So.. what brought me to Backyard Brains in the first place! Well, it has been a long journey. I am Joud, an international student from Jordan. I am a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College, majoring in Neuroscience and Behaviour with a focus in Biomedical Engineering Nexus Program.

In my home college, I currently work with Professor Kenneth Colodner in the Colodner Lab, where we focus on studying Alzheimer’s disease and related tauopathies using various genetic techniques in fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster models. Last semester, I worked on enhancing the design of a HIT (High Impact Trauma) device used to deliver mechanical force to flies, by subjecting them
to cycles of acceleration and deceleration to inflict TBI paradigms. The device was used in the development of a Drosophila melanogaster model of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). My next step will be exploring glial cells!

I learned about Backyard Brains while doing a project in collaboration with NeuroTinker, using their NeuroBytes to create “SPLIT”; an educational tool model simulating neurological symptoms in split-brain patients.

This is my first time visiting Michigan, and I’m already enjoying the vibes here in Ann Arbor! The past week was an experimentation period, where we got to work with the BYB tools and the new plant electrophysiology kit.  

With the fellows, I’m upper right!


We also had fun exploring the area and celebrating Memorial Day at the BYB Barbecue. Stay tuned for more posts and updates on my progress!

Also, for those interested, here are some of the paper’s I have been working with!

Rudoy, J.D., Voss, J.L., Westerberg, C.E., & Paller, K.A. (2009). Strengthening individual memories by reactivating them during sleep. Science, 326, 1079, with supporting online material.

Antony, J.W., Gobel, E.W., O’Hare, J.K., Reber, P.J., & Paller, K.A. (2012). Cued memory reactivation during sleep influences skill learning, Nature Neuroscience, 15, 1114-1116.      

Oudiette, D., Antony, J.W., Creery, J.C., & Paller, K.A. (2013). The role of memory reactivation during wakefulness and sleep in determining which memories endure. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 6672-6678.

Hu, X., Antony, J.W., Creery, J.D., Vargas, I.M. Bodenhausen, G.V., & Paller, K.A. (2015). Unlearning implicit social biases during sleep. Science, 348, 1013-1015.

Jaskir, A (2015). Decoding EEG Signals Using Deep Neural Networks: A Basis for Sleep Analysis. Advisor: Ken Norman, Professor of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute

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