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Researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich in Switzerland examine the effect of oversleeping on the brain's ability to learn new things. Specifically, the new study looks at the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to stimuli that it receives from the environment.



Motor cortex is the brain area responsible for developing and controlling motor skills, and the deep sleep phase called slow-wave sleep which is key for memory formation and processing, as well as for helping the brain to restore itself after a day of activity.

The study involved few women and few men who were asked to perform motoric tasks during the day following a night of unperturbed sleep, and after a night during which their deep sleep had been disturbed.

The tasks involved learning a series of finger movements, and the researchers were able to locate precisely the brain area responsible for learning movement.

Using an electroencephalogram, the researchers monitored the brain activity of the participants while they were sleeping.

On the first day of the experiment - after the first movement learning session - the participants were able to sleep without disturbance.

On the second night, however, the researchers manipulated the participants' sleep quality. They were able to focus on the motor cortex and disrupt their deep sleep, thus investigating the impact that poor sleep has on the neuroplasticity involved in practicing new movements.

The participants did not know that their deep sleep phase had been tampered with. To them, the quality of their sleep was roughly the same on both occasions.

Poor Blocks The Brain's Ability to Learn

Next, the researchers evaluated the participants' ability to learn new movements. In the morning, the subjects' learning performance was at its highest, as expected.
However, as the day progressed, they continued to make more and more mistakes. Again, this was expected.

After a night of restorative sleep, the participants' learning efficiency spiked again. But after their night of manipulated sleep, their learning efficiency did not improve as significantly. In fact, the morning after a night of manipulated sleep, the participants' performance was as low as on the evening of the previous day.

The reason why this happens, according to the researchers, is that during the manipulated deep sleep, the neurons' synapses did not "rest" as they normally would during restorative sleep.

During the day, our synapses get excited as a response to the stimuli that surround us. During sleep, however, these synapses restore themselves and their activity "normalizes."

Without this restorative period, the synapses stay maximally excited for too long. Such a state inhibits neuroplasticity, which means that learning new things is CONTINUE READING

CULLED FROM MEDICALNEWSTODAY

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