Posted on May 23rd 2017. Written by Ana Sandoiu. Featured on MedicalNewsToday.
Most of us know that a good night’s sleep is key for happiness and productivity, and that conversely, a night of poor sleep can have negative effects on our performance during the day. But a new study manages to find precisely the brain area responsible for learning new skills and shows how it can be affected by poor sleep quality.
A team of researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, both in Switzerland, set out to examine the effect of a disturbed deep sleep phase on the brain’s ability to learn new things.
More specifically, the new study – published in the journal Nature Communications – looks at the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to the stimuli that it receives from the environment, or neuroplasticity, in the motor cortex and how it is affected by deep sleep.
The motor cortex is the brain area responsible for developing and controlling motor skills, and the deep sleep phase – also called slow-wave sleep – is key for memory formation and processing, as well as for helping the brain to restore itself after a day of activity.
Manipulating the motor cortex during deep sleep
The study involved six women and seven men who were asked to perform motoric tasks during the day following a night of unperturbed sleep, and after a night during which their deep sleep had been disturbed.
The tasks involved learning a series of finger movements, and the researchers were able to locate precisely the brain area responsible for learning movement.
Using an electroencephalogram, the researchers monitored the brain activity of the participants while they were sleeping.
On the first day of the experiment – after the first movement learning session – the participants were able to sleep without disturbance.
On the second night, however, the researchers manipulated the participants’ sleep quality. They were able to focus on the motor cortex and disrupt their deep sleep, thus investigating the impact that poor sleep has on the neuroplasticity involved in practicing new movements.
The participants did not know that their deep sleep phase had been tampered with. To them, the quality of their sleep was roughly the same on both occasions.
Poor sleep keeps synapses excited, blocks the brain’s ability to learn
Next, the researchers evaluated the participants’ ability to learn new movements. In the morning, the subjects’ learning performance was at its highest, as expected.
However, as the day progressed, they continued to make more and more mistakes. Again, this was expected.
After a night of restorative sleep, the participants’ learning efficiency spiked again. But after their night of manipulated sleep, their learning efficiency did not improve as significantly. In fact, the morning after a night of manipulated sleep, the participants’ performance was as low as on the evening of the previous day.
The reason why this happens, according to the researchers, is that during the manipulated deep sleep, the neurons’ synapses did not “rest” as they normally would during restorative sleep.
During the day, our synapses get excited as a response to the stimuli that surround us. During sleep, however, these synapses restore themselves and their activity “normalizes.” Without this restorative period, the synapses stay maximally excited for too long. Such a state inhibits neuroplasticity, which means that learning new things is no longer possible.
“In the strongly excited region of the brain, learning efficiency was saturated and could no longer be changed, which inhibited the learning of motor skills,” explains co-lead author Nicole Wenderoth, professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at the ETH Zurich.
To ensure that they located the right brain area responsible for deep sleep, the researchers repeated the experiment by assigning the same task but manipulating a different region of the brain.
This did not result in any changes to the participants’ performance.
This is the first time that a study has proven the causal connection between deep sleep and learning efficiency.
Reto Huber, professor at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich and of child and adolescent psychiatry at UZH, comments on the significance of the study:
“We have developed a method that lets us reduce the sleep depth in a certain part of the brain and therefore prove the causal connection between deep sleep and learning efficiency […] Many diseases manifest in sleep as well, such as epilepsy. Using the new method, we hope to be able to manipulate those specific brain regions that are directly connected with the disease.”
Posted on September 4th 2017. Written by Beverly Goldsmith. Featured on Motherpedia.
With the coming of Spring, it’s time to shrug off winter’s gloom, put a pep back in your step, and revive that sparkling energy which carries you effortlessly through the day. Cold, dark hours may have tricked you into feeling mentally sluggish, yet your inner get-up- and-go is there just waiting to be activated. So whether you’re at home or work, get energized. It’s good for your health.
DON’T WAIT. INVIGORATE!
If you want to be a love-life, energized kind of person, then spring into action. Don’t wait for the sun to come out, or for someone or something to raise your enthusiasm level. An energetic vibe, doesn’t rely on external factors like the weather or other people. Right now, you can invigorate your thinking and be a buoyant, lively person. So get cracking! Let in the energizing sunshine of these action-packed tips.
- Break out of winter hibernation. Get energized. Ignite your inner spark of vitality. Expect to have a fulfilling life, all year round.
- Cast off winter gloominess. Look forward. Have a goal. Start a project. Do something new. Share your good ideas with others at home and work. Make each day the greatest day of your life.
- Strengthen your self-esteem. Be confident. Remind yourself that you’re doing well.
- Enliven your daily life. Boost your cheerfulness level. Be grateful. Make your home a love-filled, happy place in which everyone can thrive.
- Avoid the mental “midday slump”. Pause. Take a moment to refresh. Feel “the divine energy of Spirit, bringing us [you] into newness of life…”. Mary Baker Eddy Science and Health p.249
- Be mentally proactive. Stop saying things like , I’m slowing down, I can’t or don’t want to do things. Push through the mental barrier of negativity. You CAN do what you need to do with vim and vigour.
- Renew your inner strength by drawing on the divine Spirit. You’ll soar on wings like eagles; run and not become weary; walk and not grow tired. The Bible. Isaiah 40:31
- Liberate yourself from believing that doing good is tiring. Spiritual energies can’t wear out.“Florence Nightingale and other philanthropists engaged in humane labours,” have shown that “The spiritual demand, quelling the material, supplies energy and endurance surpassing all other aids…”. Mary Baker Eddy Science and Health p.385
- Be stirred into action. There’s an enlivening divine Power that enables you to live a happy, healthy life. So come on, don’t wait. Get energized. It’s good for your health.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Beverly Goldsmith writes about the connection between spirituality and health and is a Practitioner and Teacher of Christian Science healing. Twitter: @GoldsmithBev
Image credit: © Glow Images. Model used for illustrative purposes
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