Some people can sleep through anything: dogs barking, television blaring, storms outside, but have you ever wondered how some people have this heavenly ability that others don't? Scientist have now discovered parts of the brain that affect our sleeping habits and believe that with more knowledge of these parts they can establish a way for all people to get much more rest at night.
Sound sleepers have distinct brain patterns of spontaneous wave activity that others don't. "We found that by measuring brain waves during sleep, we could learn a lot about how well a person's brain can block the negative effects of sound; the more sleep spindles your brain produces, the more likely you'll stay asleep, even when confronted with noise." Jeffery Ellenbogen of Harvard Medical School was quoted as saying.
During sleep, brain waves change, they become slower and more organized. The sleep spindles are brief bursts of quicker and faster waves. These waves are produced by another part of the brain called the thalamus, which serves as a stopover for every piece of sensory information except smell.
"The thalamus is likely preventing sensory information from getting to areas of the brain that perceive and react to sound," Ellenbogen explained. "And our data provides evidence that the sleep spindle is a marker of this blockade. More spindles means more stable sleep, even when confronted with noise."
The scientists observed brain patterns of the participants while they slept in the lab for three nights. The first night was quiet, while the second and third nights were noisy. The researchers subjected the participants to many sounds like a telephone ringing, people talking, hospital-based mechanical sounds, and so on. "The effect of sleep spindles was so pronounced that we could see it even after just a single night," Ellenbogen said.
The researchers hope to come up with ways to use spindle fibers to enhance sound sleeping, but it is unsure how to do this at this time. Ellenbogen believes these advances would be particularly appreciated today because of the odd environments we sleep in. It could also be very beneficial in the hospital settings where there are many unavoidable noises.
Ellenbogen envisions a time where we can control the spindles to keep us asleep and then use them to wake us up too. They also advise to people who sleep with the radio or television on to set a timer on the devices because even if the person sleeping with these things on is unaware of the disruptions, it does disrupt sleeping.
©2007 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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