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Connections in children's brains strengthen during sleep

Date:
November 20, 2013
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
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.

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.

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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 brain 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 brain connections.

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 brain activity 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 brain maturation 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 sleep disruption during childhood may affect brain development and behavior.

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


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Salome Kurth, Peter Achermann, Thomas Rusterholz, Monique LeBourgeois. Development of Brain EEG Connectivity across Early Childhood: Does Sleep Play a Role? Brain Sciences, 2013; 3 (4): 1445 DOI: 10.3390/brainsci3041445

Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Connections in children's brains strengthen during sleep." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120155215.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2013, November 20). Connections in children's brains strengthen during sleep. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120155215.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Connections in children's brains strengthen during sleep." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120155215.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

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