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Study may reveal sleepís role in brain development


A long-term sleep study by experts in the US may be about to reveal new information about what goes on in the brain during sleep, along with how the brain develops during adolescence. The research at the University of California at Davis’ Sleep Lab has focused on the brains of participating teenagers since 2002, looking at ways in which they transition through the intense developmental age range.

The study specifically scans the synapses – connections made between neurons within the brain – that are discarded (or ‘pruned’ as the researchers describe it) during the maturation into adulthood. Using data from previous studies along with new findings, by measuring EEG readings obtained while participants were sleeping it was determined that the brain has a maximum synaptic density around the age of eight, and from that point the volume is reduced – slowly up to the age of twelve, then more rapidly around age sixteen.

“Sleep is interesting because there are so many unanswered questions. We still don’t know the purpose of sleep,” UC Davis researcher Dr. Ian Campbell said on Healthline.

The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Physiology.

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