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Spindles foster sound slumber

Distinctive brain signals sustain sleep in noisy environments

3:27pm, August 10, 2010

Sound sleepers make more waves. Certain types of brain waves, that is.

Brain waves known as sleep spindles help keep sleepers slumbering even when confronted with airplane noise, traffic sounds, ringing telephones and loud conversations. A new study shows that people who can sleep through all of that produce more spindles even on quiet nights than light sleepers do.

The study, published in the Aug. 10 Current Biology, suggests that boosting spindles might help poor sleepers get better shut-eye.

“The goal of this research agenda is to make the sleeping environment really a utopia,” says Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. But in order to achieve that goal, the researchers needed to know what happens during a night of good sleep.

A dozen healthy volunteers came to the sleep lab for three consecutive nights. On the first night, all was quiet

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