Spindle Production – Key to a Good Night's Sleep?

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August 16, 2010

Spindle Production – Key to a Good Night's Sleep?

Researchers from Boston's Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital may have found that 'sleep spindles' are the secret ingredient to an uninterrupted night's sleep. Their research has been published in today's issue of Current Biology .

The study focused on how sensitivity to noise during sleep is associated with a type of brain wave activity called " sleep spindles ." Spindle rhythms are thought to originate from the thalamus, a major brain sensory and motor relay region. "If a spindle occurs at the same time as a sound, then the sound is likely blocked from perception, keeping the person asleep. More spindles make it more likely that noises will collide with this sleep-protecting rhythm ", said Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Ellenbogen and his team of researchers studied 12 adults, ages 20-46, during three nights of sleep. The researchers measured the subjects' spindle production using a process called electroencephalography (EEG) and interrupted the volunteers' sleep with a variety of common noises, such as ringing telephones and car horns. "The goal of this research agenda is to make the sleeping environment really a utopia, " says Dr. Ellenbogen.


What the researchers found is that those with more spindle rhythms were less likely to be awakened by these sounds and rates of spindle rhythms vary from person to person. "Little is known about what makes one person produce more spindles than another, " said Ellenbogen. This research is the beginning of What the understanding sleep spindle production which may assist in the development of sleep therapies in the future.