Connections in the brains of young children strengthen during sleep, study finds

November 20, 2013, University of Colorado at Boulder

While young children sleep, connections between the left and the right hemispheres of their brain strengthen, which may help brain functions mature, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The research team—led by Salome Kurth, a postdoctoral researcher, and Monique LeBourgeois, assistant professor in integrative physiology—used electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to measure the activity of eight sleeping children multiple times at the ages of 2, 3 and 5 years.

"Interestingly, during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres," Kurth said.

Scientists have known that the brain changes drastically during early childhood: New connections are formed, others are removed and a fatty layer called "myelin" forms around nerve fibers in the brain. The growth of myelin strengthens the connections by speeding up the transfer of information.

Maturation of nerve fibers leads to improvement in skills such as language, attention and impulse control. But it is still not clear what role sleep plays in the development of such .

In the new study, appearing online in the journal Brain Sciences, the researchers looked at differences in brain activity during sleep as the children got older and differences in of each child over a night's sleep. They found that connections in the brain generally became stronger during sleep as the children aged. They also found that the strength of the connections between the left and right hemispheres increased by as much as 20 percent over a night's sleep.

"There are strong indications that sleep and are closely related, but at this time, it is not known how sleep leads to changes in brain structure," Kurth said.

Future studies will be aimed at determining how during childhood may affect brain development and behavior.

"I believe inadequate in childhood may affect the maturation of the brain related to the emergence of developmental or mood disorders," Kurth said.

Explore further: Puberty turned on by brain during deep sleep

Related Stories

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 ...

Sleep boosts production of brain support cells

September 3, 2013
Sleep increases the reproduction of the cells that go on to form the insulating material on nerve cell projections in the brain and spinal cord known as myelin, according to an animal study published in the September 4 issue ...

Students advised to sleep it off

November 13, 2013
Sleepless schoolies are being urged to take a nap or sleep-in when the party dies down, with new QUT research revealing young people are "significantly" riskier when tired.

Caffeine consumption slows down brain development

September 24, 2013
Humans and other mammals show particularly intensive sleeping patterns during puberty. The brain also matures fastest in this period. But when pubescent rats are administered caffeine, the maturing processes in their brains ...

Beating the nap-time blues

October 23, 2013
Young children who are required to engage in day-time naps in childcare settings when they do not sleep are more likely to have disturbed sleep patterns that affect their behaviour and learning.

Brain activity in sleep may impact emotional disturbances in children with ADHD

May 29, 2013
Sleep consolidates emotional memories in healthy children but not in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to research published May 29 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Alexander Prehn-Kristensen ...

Recommended for you

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

A 'touching sight': How babies' brains process touch builds foundations for learning

January 16, 2018
Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby's brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom's face, or the sound of her voice.

Brain zaps may help curb tics of Tourette syndrome

January 16, 2018
Electric zaps can help rewire the brains of Tourette syndrome patients, effectively reducing their uncontrollable vocal and motor tics, a new study shows.

Researchers identify protein involved in cocaine addiction

January 16, 2018
Mount Sinai researchers have identified a protein produced by the immune system—granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)—that could be responsible for the development of cocaine addiction.

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.