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Twitches During Sleep Activate The Brain In a Unique Way, Study Finds

Update Date: Sep 30, 2014 08:45 AM EDT

Twitches made during sleep activate the brains of mammals differently than movements made while awake, according to a new study. 

The study found that during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep comprise a different class of movement, providing further evidence that sleep twitches activate circuits throughout the developing brain. 

The findings of the study imply that twitches teach newborns about their limbs and what they can do with them. 

"Every time we move while awake, there is a mechanism in our brain that allows us to understand that it is we who made the movement," said Alexandre Tiriac, a fifth-year graduate student in psychology at the UI and first author of the study, in the press release. "But twitches seem to be different in that the brain is unaware that they are self-generated. And this difference between sleep and wake movements may be critical for how twitches, which are most frequent in early infancy, contribute to brain development."

Mark Blumberg, a psychology professor at the UI and senior author of the study, added that this latest discovery is further evidence that sleep twitches- whether in dogs, cats or humans-are connected to brain development, not dreams.

"Because twitches are so different from wake movements," he said in the press release, "these data put another nail in the coffin of the 'chasing rabbits' interpretation of twitches."

The study was published in the journal Current Biology. 

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