Saturday, 7 April 2012

Teenagers, sleep and brain changes

Adolescents are renowned for their ability to sleep and for their erratic behaviour.

A recent study examining adolescent brain activity during sleep reveals what is happening in the brains of adolescents (that may help explain their behaviour!).

The study, led by Dr Ian Campbell and Prof Irwin Feinberg at the University of California, involved 67 adolescents. The researchers took electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of their brainwaves while sleeping. They found that there was a 60% drop in the activity of delta waves in the brain as the children moved through puberty, particularly between the ages of 12 and 16 years. Delta waves occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep, the phase of sleep where the brain recuperates from its activity during the day.

Changes in brainwaves indicate that pruning of brain cells occurs at this time. As discussed in our earlier blog, Neuroplasticity in Children, pruning involves brain cells and the connections between them being removed, leading to changes in brain efficiency.

Another researcher, Prof Mick Hunter of the University of Newcastle, stated that "People don't realise what massive changes occur in adolescence in a very short period of time. There are so many changes - physiologically, mentally and socially". These changes appear to be interdependent.

These findings may have implications for the study of mental illness such as schizophrenia. It may be that errors that occur during the rapid process of brain reorganisation at the end of adolescence give rise to mental illness.

Mental illness can be associated with cognitive difficulties. To learn more about the relationship between mental illness and cognition, contact us.

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