Learning to shape your brain activity

Oct 01, 2008

A study in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal Sleep shows that the successful manipulation of sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) amplitude by instrumental SMR conditioning (ISC) improved sleep quality as well as declarative learning. ISC might thus be considered a promising non-pharmacological treatment for primary insomnia.

This study allowed participants to "shape their own brain activity" by directly modifying certain electroencephalographic (EEG) activities. Findings support the theory that an increase in relaxation and a decrease in muscle tension might lead to less movement during sleep and thereby augment the restorative and learning enhancement benefits of sleep. Significant changes in SMR amplitude from early to late conditioning sessions confirmed the success of ISC. EEG changes transferred into sleep and improved immediate memory retrieval after learning. The study's 27 participants were able to fall asleep faster (decrease in "sleep onset latency") and increase memory performance after two weeks of ISC.

"The aim of the study was to improve sleep quality and memory performance by 'rewarding' the existence of certain activities of the brain," said the study's workgroup leader, Dr. Manuel Schabus, researcher for the division of physiological psychology at the University of Salzburg in Austria.

Instrumental conditioning of different EEG parameters has long been used as a therapeutic tool to treat different kinds of disorders, including epilepsy and attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prior research has found that ISC can be effective in treating psychophysiological insomnia, a form of insomnia associated with worrying.

Twenty-seven healthy subjects were randomly assigned to either an ISC group or a randomized frequency group in order to examine the effects of ISC on sleep as well as declarative memory performance. Participants attended the laboratory on 13 occasions, during 10 of which they were connected to a feedback system that allowed them to keep track of their current brain activity by looking at a computer screen. Participants were encouraged to use physiological relaxation combined with positive mental activity in order to "shape their brainwaves"; all participants remained blind to their group assignment and were not debriefed until after the investigation had ended.

Participants trained the enhancement of the SMR over the course of two weeks and were rewarded with a pleasant image whenever they succeeded to enhance this specific type of brain activity. Subjective data about sleep quality and depression and objective data about memory and intelligence were also collected. Participants were asked to perform a declarative word-pair association task before and after a 90-minute nap periods in the laboratory; naps were taken before and after treatment sessions.

The researchers suggest that future studies focus on the effects of ISC on various cognitive tasks and address the potential clinical significance of this kind of training for the long-term treatment of insomnia.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Explore further: Nervous system may play bigger role in infections than previously known

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

LiquidPiston unveils quiet X Mini engine prototype

1 hour ago

LiquidPiston has a new X Mini engine which is a small 70 cubic centimeter gasoline powered "prototype. This is a quiet, four-stroke engine with near-zero vibration. The company said it can bring improvements ...

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

2 hours ago

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

New terahertz device could strengthen security

2 hours ago

We are all familiar with the hassles that accompany air travel. We shuffle through long lines, remove our shoes, and carry liquids in regulation-sized tubes. And even after all the effort, we still wonder if these procedures ...

European space plane set for February launch

2 hours ago

Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan.

Recommended for you

Stroke damage mechanism identified

10 hours ago

Researchers have discovered a mechanism linked to the brain damage often suffered by stroke victims—and are now searching for drugs to block it.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.