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We provide evidence that human sleep is a competitive arena in which cognitive domains vie for limited resources. Using pharmacology and effective connectivity analysis, we demonstrate that long-term memory and working memory are served by distinct offline neural mechanisms that are mutually antagonistic. Specifically, we administered zolpidem to increase central sigma activity and demonstrated targeted suppression of autonomic vagal activity. With effective connectivity, we determined the central activity has greater causal influence over autonomic activity, and the magnitude of this influence during sleep produced a behavioral trade-off between offline long-term and working memory processing. These findings suggest a sleep switch mechanism that toggles between central sigma-dependent long-term memory and autonomic vagal-dependent working memory processing.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date





e2109339118 - e2109339118