Science & Technology
'First-night effect' sees brain staying alert
By T.K. Randall
April 23, 2016 · 11 comments
Ever had trouble sleeping in a new place ? Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Pedro Simoes
Scientists have found that half your brain stays alert when you try to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings.
Have you ever had difficulty getting a good night's sleep in a hotel or some other unfamiliar place ? According to new research by scientists at Brown University, this is actually a common defensive behavior that humans share with numerous other species including birds and sea mammals.
The answer lies in our brain's ability to stay alert while we are sleeping so that if danger approaches we can wake up and get out of harm's way - something that is typically more likely to happen in unfamiliar surroundings than if you are asleep in your own bed at home.
Scientists had previously noticed during unrelated sleep experiments that subjects sleeping in the laboratory for the first time would experience far more sporadic sleep patterns.
It turns out that in such circumstances half the brain is actually not completely asleep.
"We've known for quite a while that some marine mammals like dolphins and some of the seals as well as many birds can sleep with one half of the brain at a time," said Dr Niels Rattenborg.
"When we're sleeping in a new environment and we don't know how many predators are around it would make sense to keep half the brain more alert and more responsive to bumps in the night."
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