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EARLY sleep dominated by slow-wave sleep has been found to be particularly relevant for declarative memory formation via hippocampo–neocortical networks. Concurrently, early nocturnal sleep is characterized by an inhibition of glucocorticoid release from the adrenals. Here, we show in healthy humans that this inhibition serves to support declarative memory consolidation during sleep. Elevating plasma glucocorticoid concentration during early sleep by administration of cortisol impaired consolidation of paired associate words, but nou of non-declarative memory of visuomotor skills. Since glucocorticoid concentration was enhanced only during retention sleep, but not during acquisition or retrieval, a specific effect on the consolidation process is indicated. Blocking mineralocorticoid receptors by canrenoate did not affect memory, suggesting inactivation of glucocorticoid receptors to be the essential prerequisite for memory consolidation during early sleep.