Neurons Take Time Off During Deep Sleep

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May 22, 2009

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Apparently brain cells need vacations, too. According to a study published in Science, a prominent electronic signal sent out during slow-wave — or deep — sleep indicates neurons are taking a break.

Researchers believe the downtime allows a person to sleep through non-threatening interruptions, such as sounds or touches. The study looked at sleep patterns in eight patients who previously had 24 microelectrodes implanted in each of their brains in order to detect epileptic seizures. Researchers used the microelectrodes to monitor activity in the deeper layers of the brain and discovered a signal, called a K-complex, that appeared while quiet sounds were played. Researchers believe K-complex signals are generated to quiet neuron activity when the brain deems a distraction harmless.