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Sleep Strengthens Connections Between Brain Hemispheres

Update Date: Nov 21, 2013 07:23 AM EST

Scientists have found more evidence that sleep benefits children's brains. New research reveals that connections between the left and the right hemispheres of the brain strengthen during sleep for young children.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder say that the strengthening of the left and right hemispheres of the brain may help brain functions mature.

Lead researchers Salome Kurth and Monique LeBourgeois used electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to measure the brain activity of eight sleeping children multiple times at the ages of 2, 3 and 5 years.

"Interestingly, during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres," Kurth said in a news release.

Previous research on childhood brain development revealed that new connections are formed, others are removed and a fatty layer called "myelin," which strengthens the connections by speeding up the transfer of information, forms around nerve fibers in the brain.

Researchers explain that the maturation of nerve fibers help improve skills like language, attention and impulse control. However, researchers are still not sure what sleep plays in the development of such brain connections.

The latest findings revealed that connections became stronger during sleep as children aged. Furthermore, the strength of the connections between the left and right hemispheres increased by as much as 20 percent over a night's sleep.

"There are strong indications that sleep and brain maturation are closely related, but at this time, it is not known how sleep leads to changes in brain structure," Kurth said.

Researchers said the next step is to look at how sleep disruption during childhood affects brain development and behavior.

"I believe inadequate sleep in childhood may affect the maturation of the brain related to the emergence of developmental or mood disorders," Kurth concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Brain Sciences.

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