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Sleep strengthens some synapses

Mice show signs of stronger neuron connections when allowed to snooze after learning a trick

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2:11pm, June 5, 2014

SLEEP STUDY  After a post-learning snooze, mouse nerve cells (shown) had more newly formed docking sites for other nerve cells (filled arrowheads).   

While the body snoozes, the brain is hard at work. Connections between certain nerve cells appear to strengthen during slumber, a study in mice suggests. The results, published in the June 6 Science, may help explain how sleep cements information in the brain.

The new findings emphasize the importance of sleep for learning and memory, says study coauthor Wen-Biao Gan of New York University School of Medicine. “When you go to sleep, you’re not really wasting your time,” Gan says. “You’re actually making connections better.”

Previous studies have found that post-learning snoozes make brains sharper, but just how those improvements happened was unclear. 

Gan and his colleagues studied specific nerve cells, or neurons, that help mice perform a newly learned balancing trick. Over an hour, mice learned to run on a rod as it rotated faster and faster. Neurons in the

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