Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Sleep Disorders Health Center

Font Size

Brain Waves Show Why Some Sleep Through Noise

Research May Lead to New Approaches in Treating Sleep Disorders
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 9, 2010 -- The brains of people who can sleep through the night undisturbed may be better wired to block out noise, according to a small study.

Understanding who has an easier time sleeping than others may help researchers develop more targeted approaches to treating sleep disorders. Environmental noises can affect sleep quality, which can ultimately impact overall health. According to a 2009 survey by the CDC, about one in 10 Americans report difficulty sleeping. Only 30% say they get enough sleep; more than 50 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston tracked brain waves among 12 healthy individuals using electroencephalography (EEG) imaging to quantify sleep quality. The team wanted to observe the differences in brain wave rhythms, which were captured by EEG and changed as people moved through different stages of sleep.

Sensory information, including sound, passes through a structure in the brain called the thalamus before reaching the cortex where communication signals are processed.Communication between the thalamus and cortex continue during sleep and are represented by the brain waves captured by EEG.

During the deeper second and third stages of non-REM sleep, brain wave patterns slow down but are interspersed with brief, rapid pulses called spindles, which only appear during sleep. Earlier research has suggested spindles help block sensory information from reaching the thalamus, so Jeffery Ellenbogen, MD, chief of Massachusetts General Hospital's Division of Sleep Medicine, and colleagues tested this theory by having participants spend three nights at a sleep laboratory.

Measuring Brain Activity

The researchers altered the sensory information over the three-day period; the first night was quiet and the second and third nights were noisy.They measured brain wave activity every night to compare differences.

Participants were exposed to 10-second sounds at 40 decibels while sleeping in the sleep laboratory.Those who were able to consistently peacefully sleep through the telephone ringing and traffic sounds had a higher spindle rates on their EEGs.Their findings are reported in Current Biology.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of the effect," Ellenbogen says in a news release. "We designed the study to follow participants for three nights to capture a lot of data, but the effect was so pronounced that we could see it after a single 'noisy' night.  Now we want to study behavioral techniques, drugs or devices that may enhance sleep spindles and see if they can help people stay asleep when confronted with noise and maintain otherwise healthy, natural sleep. Understanding the tools and techniques the brain naturally uses could help us harness and expand those responses to help stay asleep in noisy environments."

Today on WebMD

Alcohol Disrupting Your Sleep
Article
Sweating Evaluator
Article
 
Lavender sprig
Article
Always Sleepy Causes Fixes For Fat
Slideshow
 

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

How Many Hours Did You Sleep Last Night?
Is that amount of sleep typical for you?
Did you get enough sleep to feel alert today and function at your best?

Get the latest Sleep Disorders newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
0-6
7-8
9+

Your level is currently

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

Did You Know Lifestyle Choices
Impact Your Sleep?

Use the WebMD Sleep Tracker to track
your ZZZs over time.

Get Started

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Young woman sleeping
Quiz
The Truth About Naps
Video
 
child sitting in bed
Article
Woman with insomnia
Quiz
 

nurse sleeping
ARTICLE
Foods That Help Or Harm Your Sleep
SLIDESHOW
 
Insomnia 20 Tips For Better Sleep
Slideshow
Pain at Night
ARTICLE