How important is sleep? The evidence piles up every week, with UC Davis Sleep Laboratory researchers adding their wisdom in the February issue of American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.
The new study “Longitudinal Sleep EEG trajectories indicate complex patterns of adolescent brain maturation” monitored brain waves of sleeping adolescents, documenting major changes in the brain as it “prunes away neuronal connections” and transitions from childhood to adulthood.
“We’ve provided the first long-term, longitudinal description of developmental changes that take place in the brains of youngsters as they sleep,” said Irwin Feinberg, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the UC Davis Sleep Laboratory. “Our outcome confirms that the brain goes through a remarkable amount of reorganization during puberty that is necessary for complex thinking.”
The research also confirms that electroencephalogram, or EEG, is a powerful tool for tracking brain changes during different phases of life, and that it could potentially be used to help diagnose age-related mental illnesses. According to Science Daily, the research is the final component in a three-part series of studies carried out over 10 years and involving more than 3,500 all-night EEG recordings.
The new findings show that synaptic density in the cerebral cortex reaches its peak at age 8 and then begins a slow decline. The recent findings also confirm that the period of greatest and most accelerated decline occurs between the ages of 12 and 16-1/2 years, at which point the drop markedly slows.
“Discovering that such extensive neuronal remodeling occurs within this 4-1/2 year timeframe during late adolescence and the early teen years confirms our view that the sleep EEG indexes a crucial aspect of the timing of brain development,” said Feinberg.