As young children sleep,
the connections between the right and left sides of their brains strengthen,
according to a small new study.
Researchers measured the
brain activity of eight children while they slept at ages 2, 3 and 5 years.
They found that connections in the brain generally became stronger during sleep
as the children aged.
The strength of the
connections between the left and right sides of the brain increase as much as
20% over a night's sleep, according to the study, which was published
online in the journal Brain Sciences.
"There are strong
indications that sleep and brain maturation are closely related, but at this
time, it is not known how sleep leads to changes in brain structure,"
study leader Salome Kurth, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of
Colorado, Boulder, said in a university news release.
Drastic changes during childhood
How sleep disruption during
childhood may affect brain development and behaviour will be examined in future
"I believe inadequate
sleep in childhood may affect the maturation of the brain related to the
emergence of developmental or mood disorders," Kurth said.
It was already known that
the brain changes drastically during early childhood. New connections are
formed, others disappear and a fatty layer called "myelin" forms
around nerve fibres in the brain. The growth of myelin strengthens the
connections by speeding up the transfer of information, according to background
information included in the news release.
Maturation of nerve fibres
improves children's skills in areas such as language, attention and impulse
control. But it hasn't been clear what role sleep plays in the development of
such brain connections.
The US National Institute
of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about the brain.
(Picture: Sleeping preschooler from Shutterstock)