Procedural memory consolidation is associated with heart rate variability and sleep spindles

Frank J. van Schalkwijk, Theresa Hauser, Kerstin Hoedlmoser, Mohamed S. Ameen, Frank H. Wilhelm, Cornelia Sauter, Gerhard Klösch, Doris Moser, Georg Gruber, Peter Anderer, Bernd Saletu, Silvia Parapatics, Josef Zeitlhofer, Manuel Schabus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sleep and memory studies often focus on overnight rather than long-term memory changes, traditionally associating overnight memory change (OMC) with sleep architecture and sleep patterns such as spindles. In addition, (para-)sympathetic innervation has been associated with OMC after a daytime nap using heart rate variability (HRV). In this study we investigated overnight and long-term performance changes for procedural memory and evaluated associations with sleep architecture, spindle activity (SpA) and HRV measures (R-R interval [RRI], standard deviation of R-R intervals [SDNN], as well as spectral power for low [LF] and high frequencies [HF]). All participants (N = 20, Mage = 23.40 ± 2.78 years) were trained on a mirror-tracing task and completed a control (normal vision) and learning (mirrored vision) condition. Performance was evaluated after training (R1), after a full-night sleep (R2) and 7 days thereafter (R3). Overnight changes (R2-R1) indicated significantly higher accuracy after sleep, whereas a significant long-term (R3-R2) improvement was only observed for tracing speed. Sleep architecture measures were not associated with OMC after correcting for multiple comparisons. However, individual SpA change from the control to the learning night indicated that only “SpA enhancers” exhibited overnight improvements for accuracy and long-term improvements for speed. HRV analyses revealed that lower SDNN and LF power was associated with better OMC for the procedural speed measure. Altogether, this study indicates that overnight improvement for procedural memory is specific for spindle enhancers, and is associated with HRV during sleep following procedural learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12910
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Sleep Research
Issue number3
Early online date27 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors. Journal of Sleep Research published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Sleep Research Society.


  • HRV
  • mirror tracing, memory
  • motor skill adaptation
  • polysomnography
  • spindles

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 501 Psychology

Cite this