Schizophrenia could be revealed by distinctive sleep pattern

November 24, 2010

When people with schizophrenia sleep, their brain waves show a distinctive pattern that may someday lead to one of the first biological markers for this devastating mental illness.

A team of sleep scientists led by Dr. Fabio Ferrarelli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that during non-rapid eye movement sleep (non-REM, or dreamless sleep), the brain waves produced by people with lack the normal pattern of slow and fast spindles.

Someday, use of a common (EEG) test could confirm suspicions of the disease, or identify young people at risk of schizophrenia.

"Schizophrenia is probably the most devastating chronic mental illness, in terms of its impact on the individual and its cost to society," says Ferrarelli, a researcher in the laboratory of psychiatry professor Dr. Giulio Tononi.

"It's a chronic disease, with a strong , but we don't have a biological marker to identify patients with schizophrenia. Currently we diagnose these patients according to their symptoms, which vary greatly among individuals."

But in sleep, at least, people with schizophrenia show a similar pattern.

The team used EEG recording to map the full-night brain wave patterns of 49 people with schizophrenia and 44 healthy people. In addition, they assessed another 20 people who were taking anti-psychotic medication for conditions other than schizophrenia.

About 90 percent of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia showed deficits in sleep spindles, the most common brain waves occurring during non-REM sleep. By contrast, people from the healthy and medicated-but-not-schizophrenic groups showed a regular spindle pattern. The results confirm those from an earlier study.

Another component of non-REM , known as slow waves, didn't vary among the groups.

Co-author Dr. Michael Peterson, assistant professor of psychiatry, says that spindles are mostly produced in the thalamus, a structure in the center of the brain that coordinates incoming stimuli and sends it along to the cerebral cortex. Slow waves are produced mostly in the cortex.

"This study seems to show that the thalamus is particularly important in schizophrenia," Peterson says.

A malfunction in the thalamus could help explain why schizophrenics see and hear things that aren't there.

"If the thalamus doesn't do its job of filtering out unnecessary information, the brain might be unable to ignore stimuli," says Ferrarelli.

This theory lends credence to the idea that brain waves during could be used as a diagnostic test.

"The goal is to find a that is consistent and related to the fundamental deficits of the disease," Ferrarelli says.

While the research project used an EEG cap with 256 electrodes, only a handful of them are needed to map the crucial , meaning the test could be performed in most hospitals with an EEG.

More information: The study was published in the November edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Stress in pregnancy linked to changes in infant's nervous system, less smiling, less resilience

November 23, 2017
Maternal stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may influence the nervous system of the developing child, both before and after birth, and may have subtle effects on temperament, resulting in less smiling and engagement, ...

Study finds infection and schizophrenia symptom link

November 22, 2017
If a mother's immune system is activated by infection during pregnancy, it could result in critical cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia in her offspring, a University of Otago study has revealed.

Schizophrenia drug development may be 'de-risked' with new research tool

November 22, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have identified biomarkers that can aid in the development of better treatments for schizophrenia.

Self-harm, suicide attempts climb among US girls, study says

November 21, 2017
Attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury have increased substantially in U.S. girls, a 15-year study of emergency room visits found.

Car, stroller, juice: Babies understand when words are related

November 20, 2017
The meaning behind infants' screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder

November 20, 2017
A groundbreaking Loyola Medicine study suggests that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2010
i call total nonsense on this. we are a society that thinks ambien makes people go to 'sleep' and our 'science' allows industries to sell this drug. upon that basis alone, i'm saying this research is nonsense.
2 / 5 (4) Nov 24, 2010
In any materialist society that denies the telepathic nature of intelligence yet at the same time abuses it for its power and pleasure, treatments for telepathic disorders are impossible.

Schizophrenia is a maladaption of certain people to the telepathic mind, and because of the deceptions enforced in our culture we treat it as though it is a biological failure. It is misdiagnosed because we cannot confront the basis of the problem - Our brains are telepathic in nature and illnesses relating to this natural function must be treated as such.

Overcoming our primitive form of social tyranny would be required before treatments for this "disease" can be effective. It is a miserable condition to not be able to use all of one's faculties because others deny they exist and this confusing deception exacerbates mental illness.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2010
im really glad people are not buying this

‎"Westerners do not accept the existence of conscious processes for which they have no operational term. The attitude which is prevalent is: - if you can't label it, and if it is beyond current notions of space-time and personality, then it is not open for investigation. Thus we see the ego-loss experience confused with schizophrenia..."
1 / 5 (3) Nov 25, 2010
Humans are a work in progress.

The birth of new intelligence is painful, and interpreted by on lookers as a disease.

The strong correlation between schizophrenia and genius is no coincidence.

You should not mess with what you do not understand.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2010
Do you remember pre frontal lobotomy?
I do.

Now it is done with drugs.

Less messy, and more lucrative.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2010
Humans are a work in progress, unless you consider yourself at the apex of Gods creation.
In which case you should be taking your own medication.

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.