Amongst its many functions, sleep plays a critical role in consolidating the memories and skill that were acquired during the day. When we learn a new skill or store a memory, certain physiological processes, known collectively as neural placticity, take place that retain the acquired information. During a particular phase of sleep known as slow wave sleep (SWS), large, hightly synchronous bursts of low-frequency brain activity known as slow-wave oscillations are critical in consolidating these plastic changes. Consolidation is important in promoting long-term storage of information.

Despite the undeniably important role that sleep plays in promoting neural plasticity, there are many amongst us who find it difficult to sleep properly, and thus, to gain benefit from a good night’s sleep. One demographic particularly prone to poor sleep is the elderly, and poor sleep in this group has recently been causally linked to memory dysfunction. Impairments in memory manifest because of impaired plasticity mechanisms.

Recently, non-invasive brain simulation, transcranial discrete current stimulation (tDCS), has been used to induce these oscillations in the awake human brain, and has consequently enhanced memory. The project described uses tDCS to harness the beneficial effects of sleep in promoting plasticity in the brain in young and elderly people.

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) are currently running studies to investigate these processes further. For more information, please contact

Claire Bradley 

claire.bradley@uq.edu.au