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Science & Technology

'First-night effect' sees brain staying alert

By T.K. Randall
April 23, 2016 · Comment icon 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."

Source: | Comments (11)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by aniknonymous 7 years ago
that happens to me too. i remember being in a friends house once and his mother was about to live early in the morning and before she was out of the door i stood up and said to her good reaction was to fast for me to even understand i was doing it. after a few seconds i realised what i was doing. that happens to houses i've slept before too. i'm always half asleep.there are some people tho that doesn't matter where they are, they will snore and don't wake up even if you were breaking plates next to their ears.
Comment icon #3 Posted by xxxdemonxxx 7 years ago
Wonder if it correlates to lucid dreams, making it easier. I haven't noticed whether i have more lucid dreams while away or not, but i'll start paying attention.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Infernal Gnu 7 years ago
Wow, so our primitive animal minds keep us half awake in case a lion or cave bear or another humanoid might attack. I snore very loudly and it seems like evolution would have eliminated snorers like me millions of years ago because we announce to any/all predators where we are.
Comment icon #5 Posted by MissJatti 7 years ago
I never get a good nights sleep, no matter where I am
Comment icon #6 Posted by preacherman76 7 years ago
Bet that's why I get sleep paralysis every time I camp out.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Farmer77 7 years ago
Genetics really are an amazing thing.
Comment icon #8 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
So based on this, never try to sneak into someone's hotel room the first night they are there and try to kill them. Wait a few days to see if they sleep better or just following them home and do it there.
Comment icon #9 Posted by BeastieRunner 7 years ago
Makes evolutionary sense.
Comment icon #10 Posted by TheGreatBeliever 7 years ago
I'm the opposite. I sleep better at new/unfamiliar places. Anyway sometimes I do have this feeling. Feels like u sleep but u din sleep. U end up waking up wondering if u did sleep..
Comment icon #11 Posted by abuzer1990 7 years ago
Im student in Near East University and i think your website is really helpfull

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