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When a person experiences sleep deprivation they also reduce their working memory ability. Working memory is a form of short-term memory that relates to the ability to store task-specific information–like where you parked your car in a huge parking lot.

Bruce Luber, Ph.D., instructor clinical psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, studied on how to improve the working memory of young adults. Fifteen young, healthy subjects were sleep deprived for a 48 hour period. Participants were tested before and after the sleep deprived period using letter recognition with their responses being timed.

Using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) researchers were able to non-invasively stimulate areas of the brain associated with working memory. Participants demonstrated an improved working memory performance as a result of rTMS. These findings have implications for new ways to treat sleep deprivation, which is a pervasive problem for soldiers, truck drivers, and night-shift workers. They also provide researchers with a better understanding of the neural bases of cognitive decline in the elderly.