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P Maquet, C Smith, and R Stickgold. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, pp 379, £75.00. ISBN 0-19-857400-2
One of the least known aspects of human behaviour is sleep, and its function is still up for debate. This book examines the hypothesis that it plays a part in retaining and recalling information. Although not the result of conference proceedings, it consists of 17 chapters each by an expert in his field, and each complete in itself. In other words, each author reviews the literature that is already addressed elsewhere in the book before going on to describe his own experiments and conclusions.
Much of the work is on human subjects, while more biochemical and neuroanatomical studies are necessarily of animal origin. Not surprisingly these different approaches differ in detail but all agree on the importance of sleep in consolidating memory, often declarative (for example, paired words) by slow wave sleep and more emotional and complex memories by REM sleep. I have difficulties with the ethical aspects of some animal work, for example in one experiment rats are placed in a cage where they are given an electric shock which they can escape by finding a submerged platform. They are then tested by their ability to remember the placing of this platform after being returned to the cage when the platform has been removed.
The book is well written and up to date, with references dating up to 2002. It is an essential addition to the shelves of any sleep laboratory, and a useful one for any concerned with memory. It even recognises that the mother of Eichenbaum might be right in preferring her son to revise for an exam awake rather than asleep!