Sleeping really may help you study.
  • Sleeping really may help you study.

There’s a reason why certain classic rock songs (like, say, the Doors’ “Love Her Madly”) bring back vivid memories of high school biology lab: the smell of formaldehyde; the yellowing fur of Barney, the rat you had to dissect; your lab partner volunteering to do the castration because she’d just broken up with her boyfriend.

It’s because sound plays an important role in consolidating memory, says Delphine Oudiette, a postdoctoral fellow in Northwestern’s psychology department. The more you think about something, the greater chance you’ll remember it later. “Sound can act as a cue,” she explains.

It’s widely believed among neuroscientists that a lot of memory consolidation happens during sleep. But you can’t control which memories you think about—or, as Oudiette calls it, “rehearse”—while you’re asleep.

Or can you?

Oudiette thinks the key lies in sound cues, and in a paper just published in the Journal of Neuroscience on which she’s the lead author, she’s starting to prove it.