From teens' sleeping brains, the sound of growing maturity

March 22, 2013 by Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times

Listening in on the electrical currents of teenagers' brains during sleep, scientists have begun to hear the sound of growing maturity. It happens most intensively between the ages of 12 and 16 1/2: After years of frenzied fluctuation, the brain's electrical output during the deepest phase of sleep - the delta, or slow-wave phase, when a child's brain is undergoing its most restorative rest - becomes practically steady.

That reduced fluctuation in electroencephalogram signals during delta-phase sleep appears to coincide with what neuroscientists have described as major architectural changes in the brain that pave the way for cognitive maturity.

While babies, toddlers and young children are taking in and making sense of the world, their are wiring themselves together willy-nilly, creating super-dense networks of interwoven neurons. But as we reach and progress through adolescence, neuroscientists have observed, a period of intensive "synaptic pruning" occurs in which those networks are thinned and the strongest and most evolutionarily useful remain.

In a study published Monday in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, scientists from the University of California-Davis say they believe the slowed fluctuations observed during the delta phase of teens' sleep may be evidence of that pruning process at work.

And since major such as schizophrenia appear to take root during adolescence, the authors of the study say the changing architecture of sleep revealed by EEG may offer clues as to how and when that process of neuronal pruning goes awry and mental illness sets in.

Their data - sleep studies of 98 children age 6 to 18, followed for as many as seven years - will become available to other researchers. Under a grant by the National Institute of Mental Health, the EEG records of the kids' sleep will be archived with the National Institutes' of Health's National Database for Autism Research.

Explore further: Sleep study reveals how the adolescent brain makes the transition to mature thinking

Related Stories

Even in fruit flies, enriched learning drives need for sleep

June 23, 2011

Just like human teenagers, fruit flies that spend a day buzzing around the "fly mall" with their companions need more sleep. That's because the environment makes their brain circuits grow dense new synapses and they need ...

Could poor sleep contribute to symptoms of schizophrenia?

November 14, 2012

Neuroscientists studying the link between poor sleep and schizophrenia have found that irregular sleep patterns and desynchronised brain activity during sleep could trigger some of the disease's symptoms. The findings, published ...

Puberty turned on by brain during deep sleep

September 13, 2012

Slow-wave sleep, or 'deep sleep', is intimately involved in the complex control of the onset of puberty, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and ...

Recommended for you

Scientists identify neurons devoted to social memory

September 30, 2016

Mice have brain cells that are dedicated to storing memories of other mice, according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists. These cells, found in a region of the hippocampus known as the ventral CA1, store "social memories" ...

Throwing light on the brain's perception of transparency

September 30, 2016

Researchers have created a new optical illusion that helps reveal how our brains determine the material properties of objects – such as whether they are transparent, shiny, matte or translucent – just from looking at ...

Some brains are blind to moving objects

September 28, 2016

As many as half of people are blind to motion in some part of their field of vision, but the deficit doesn't have anything to do with the eyes.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.