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NOVA scienceNOW: Sleep

Program Overview

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Scientists examine the function of sleep, particularly the relationship between sleep and memory.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • describes sleep studies involving fruit flies—after a night of being jostled in a "deprivator," sleep-deprived flies need to catch up on lost sleep.

  • states that sleep is fundamental to essentially all organisms.

  • looks at the part(s) of the brain involved in sleep—in fruit flies, the area is called the mushroom body, known to be associated with memory rather than sleep.

  • introduces a sleep researcher who believes that during sleep one's brain strengthens memories by reviewing what was learned during the day.

  • states that recent studies show that practice of specific skills followed by sleep enhances memory—after one night's sleep, even after a nap, people perform better on some memory tests related to math puzzles, typing, and recognizing visual patterns.

  • introduces studies that have shown that specific cells in a rat's brain that activate when the rat runs a maze during the day activate again while the rat is asleep that night. Cells in the rat's visual cortex nearby also reactivate during sleep. The researchers hypothesize that such rats were "re-running" the maze in their brains while asleep.

  • explains that in humans, the neocortex contains the visual cortex, and there is evidence that one function of the neocortex is long-term memory storage.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Sleep
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