New research appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience highlights the important role sleep plays in strengthening and maintaining the accuracy of a memory and hints at why the brain shuts out sensory information during periods of deep sleep.

The study found that introducing new odor information to an animal while it sleeps compromises its ability to remember the difference between new and previously encountered smells while awake.

Researchers exposed rats to new and previously encountered odor information while the animals slept. To precisely control the animals’ odor experience during periods of wakefulness and sleep, the researchers delivered electrical stimulation to brain circuits involved in odor processing rather than relying on the delivery of real odors to the animals.

Exposure to new odor information during sleep made it more difficult for the animals to distinguish the learned odor from the other odors.