DOI: 10.1111/jsr.14126 ISSN: 0962-1105

An acute bout of high‐intensity exercise affects nocturnal sleep and sleep‐dependent memory consolidation

Nicole Frisch, Laura Heischel, Philipp Wanner, Simon Kern, Çağatay Necati Gürsoy, Marc Roig, Gordon Feld, Simon Steib
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • General Medicine


Acute exercise has been shown to affect long‐term memory and sleep. However, it is unclear whether exercise‐induced changes in sleep architecture are associated with enhanced memory. Recently, it has been shown that exercise followed by a nap improved declarative memory. Whether these effects transfer to night sleep and other memory domains has not yet been studied. Here, we investigate the influence of exercise on nocturnal sleep architecture and associations with sleep‐dependent procedural and declarative memory consolidation. Nineteen subjects (23.68 ± 3.97 years) were tested in a balanced cross‐over design. In two evening sessions, participants either exercised (high‐intensity interval training) or rested immediately after encoding two memory tasks: (1) a finger tapping task and (2) a paired‐associate learning task. Subsequent nocturnal sleep was recorded by polysomnography. Retrieval was conducted the following morning. High‐intensity interval training lead to an increased declarative memory retention (p = 0.047, d = 0.40) along with a decrease in REM sleep (p = 0.012, d = 0.75). Neither procedural memory nor NREM sleep were significantly affected. Exercise‐induced changes in N2 showed a positive correlation with procedural memory retention which did not withstand multiple comparison correction. Exploratory analyses on sleep spindles and slow wave activity did not reveal significant effects. The present findings suggest an exercise‐induced enhancement of declarative memory which aligns with changes in nocturnal sleep architecture. This gives additional support for the idea of a potential link between exercise‐induced sleep modifications and memory formation which requires further investigation in larger scaled studies.

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