Simon, K. C., Clemenson, G. D., Zhang, J., Sattari, N., Shuster, A. E., Clayton, B., … & Mednick, S. C. (2022). Sleep facilitates spatial memory but not navigation using the Minecraft Memory and Navigation task. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(43), e2202394119.
Sleep facilitates hippocampal-dependent memories, supporting the acquisition and maintenance of internal representation of spatial relations within an environment. In humans, however, findings have been mixed regarding sleep’s contribution to spatial memory and navigation, which may be due to task designs or outcome measurements. We developed the Minecraft Memory and Navigation (MMN) task for the purpose of disentangling how spatial memory accuracy and navigation change over time, and to study sleep’s independent contributions to each. In the MMN task, participants learned the locations of objects through free exploration of an open field computerized environment. At test, they were teleported to random positions around the environment and required to navigate to the remembered location of each object. In study 1, we developed and validated four unique MMN environments with the goal of equating baseline learning and immediate test performance. A total of 86 participants were administered the training phases and immediate test. Participants’ baseline performance was equivalent across all four environments, supporting the use of the MMN task. In study 2, 29 participants were trained, tested immediately, and again 12 h later after a period of sleep or wake. We found that the metric accuracy of object locations, i.e., spatial memory, was maintained over a night of sleep, while after wake, metric accuracy declined. In contrast, spatial navigation improved over both sleep and wake delays. Our findings support the role of sleep in retaining the precise spatial relationships within a cognitive map; however, they do not support a specific role of sleep in navigation.