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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2013, Article ID 103949, 13 pages
Review Article

Is Sleep Essential for Neural Plasticity in Humans, and How Does It Affect Motor and Cognitive Recovery?

1Department of Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, 00185 Rome, Italy
2Institute of Neurology, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, 00168 Rome, Italy
3IRCCS San Raffaele Pisana, 00163 Rome, Italy
4IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, 00179 Rome, Italy

Received 26 February 2013; Revised 28 May 2013; Accepted 29 May 2013

Academic Editor: Sergio Bagnato

Copyright © 2013 Maurizio Gorgoni et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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.