Sleepy rhythm

By • Published: November 22nd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Literally hundreds of medical studies have talked about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.

But how does one get the appropriate amount of shut-eye in a dorm room surrounded by blaring loudspeakers?

Or in a hospital room, where health-care workers diligently come and go at all hours of the night, and alarms go off when equipment needs to be reset or when medications need to be replenished?

Earplugs or headphones might help, but it turns out that the rhythm of your brain might be even better for drowning out unwanted sounds.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to find out what the brain does to promote sleep in noisy environments.

They also wanted to know why some people can sleep through a proverbial earthquake while others awaken at even slight amounts of noise.

Working with 12 adult volunteers over three nights, the scientists electronically eavesdropped on conversations between two brain structures… the thalamus and the cortex.

The first night was relatively peaceful for the volunteers.

But during the next two nights, the sleepers were subjected to increasing levels of noise. These noise levels were reflected by fluctuations in the brain’s electrical field.

They found that people who slept more soundly displayed a rather specific brain wave pattern, reflecting a rhythmic communication between the thalamus and the cortex.

The brain’s internal conversation may have effectively stifled the external stimulus, and the sleepers were less likely to awaken.

Researchers think it’s possible that certain behaviors or medications can enhance the more restful brain pattern.

Think of it… a dorm room where the rhythm is going to get you… a good night’s sleep.