What does sleep do for the developing brain? There are many studies exploring the role of sleep on children’s cerebral development; recent research conducted by at the University of Colorado, Boulder by Salome Kurth, postdoctoral researcher, and Monique LeBourgeois, assistant professor in integrative physiology, has added to the growing field of sleep science. The research duo discovered that the brain strengthens connections between the left and right hemispheres during sleep. This finding could help to explain why sleep is so important for young children.
Using electroencephalograms (EEGs), the researchers measured brain activity of a group of eight children. Data was gathered while the children slept. The measurements were taken at ages two, three, and five. The data presented longitudinal information about how the brain functions during sleep, and provided the opportunity to compare individuals’ brains against themselves in a single night of sleep.
According to Kurth, the primary finding was that “during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres.” In fact, the connections between the left and right hemispheres increased as much as 20% during a night of sleep. They also discovered that children’s brain connections become stronger with age.
Future work on this subject will endeavor to determine how sleep disruption in early childhood can affect development and behavior.
“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. I believe inadequate sleep in childhood may affect the maturation of the brain related to the emergence of developmental or mood disorders,” concluded Kurth.
This research is published in the journal Brain Sciences.
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