Is sleep essential for neural plasticity in humans, and how does it affect motor and cognitive recovery?

Maurizio Gorgoni, Aurora D'Atri, Giulia Lauri, Paolo Maria Rossini, Fabio Ferlazzo, Luigi De Gennaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a general consensus that sleep is strictly linked to memory, learning, and, in general, to the mechanisms of neural plasticity, and that this link may directly affect recovery processes. In fact, a coherent pattern of empirical findings points to beneficial effect of sleep on learning and plastic processes, and changes in synaptic plasticity during wakefulness induce coherent modifications in EEG slow wave cortical topography during subsequent sleep. However, the specific nature of the relation between sleep and synaptic plasticity is not clear yet. We reported findings in line with two models conflicting with respect to the underlying mechanisms, that is, the "synaptic homeostasis hypothesis" and the "consolidation" hypothesis, and some recent results that may reconcile them. Independently from the specific mechanisms involved, sleep loss is associated with detrimental effects on plastic processes at a molecular and electrophysiological level. Finally, we reviewed growing evidence supporting the notion that plasticity-dependent recovery could be improved managing sleep quality, while monitoring EEG during sleep may help to explain how specific rehabilitative paradigms work. We conclude that a better understanding of the sleep-plasticity link could be crucial from a rehabilitative point of view.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103949
JournalNeural Plasticity
Publication statusPublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Medicine(all)


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