Slow-wave sleep consists in slowly recurring waves that are associated with a large-scale spatio-temporal synchrony across neocortex. These slow-wave complexes alternate with brief episodes of fast oscillations, similar to the sustained fast oscillations that occur during the wake state. We propose that alternating fast and slow waves consolidate information acquired previously during wakefulness. Slow-wave sleep would thus begin with spindle oscillations that open molecular gates to plasticity, then proceed by iteratively 'recalling' and 'storing' information primed in neural assemblies. This scenario provides a biophysical mechanism consistent with the growing evidence that sleep serves to consolidate memories.