(USA TODAY) -- Looking for better sleep? Lose the white-noise machine and listen to
your brain's own rhythms, suggests a study published Thursday.
deep sleep, the brain's electrical patterns follow a slow oscillating
rhythm, notes a research team headed by Jan Born of the University of
Tubingen in Germany. Some sleep researchers have induced these rhythms
in rats with "pathological" sleep patterns, using electrical stimulation
in a bid to make them sleep better.
But what about just playing back sleepers' own brain rhythms to them instead? In the journal Neuron,
Born and colleagues played rhythmic sounds generated to match
electrical brain readings of 11 sleepers, playing the sounds of their
own brain oscillations to them during deep sleep. "The beauty lies in
the simplicity," Born said in a statement.
In the study, the
researchers exposed the sleepers to light rhythmic noise both in sync
and out of sync with their brain's oscillations during deep sleep. The
in-sync sounds appear to have strengthened the brain rhythms, the
researchers found, while also strengthening memories: volunteers were
better able to retain word associations they had learned the night
before. The out-of-sync sounds didn't have any effect.
Unlike electrical stimulation, playing soft sounds to sleepers poses no risks, the study notes, beyond the trouble of attaching electroencephalograph leads to their scalps to monitor results for the study.
improving memories, the researchers suggest that brain rhythms might
improve sleep for insomniacs. "Moreover, it might be even used to
enhance other brain rhythms with obvious functional significance -- like
rhythms that occur during wakefulness and are involved in the
regulation of attention," Born says.
But don't rush out to buy yourself a slow sleep sounds recording right away. "The
method cannot be applied by everyday people, at the moment, because the
essential point is the 'closed-loop' fashion of our stimulation, using
the brain's own rhythm as a pacemaker," Born says, where electroencephalograph readings predicted just when to deliver the next noise to sleepers to improve their sleep.
"Of course, basically it should be easy to develop a device that records the EEG (electroencephalograph)
and searches the record online for the occurrence of a slow oscillation
and then delivers acoustic click stimuli," to someone sleeping, Born
adds by email. "Maybe there will be a company adopting the approach to
make some money out of it."
Dan Vergano, USA TODAY