A recent sleep study about a type of brain activity known as alpha wave has uncovered that it may be linked to quality of sleep. The alpha wave has been known to emanate from the back of the head during waking hours and disappear during a deep sleep. However, it has been discovered that the alpha wave does not go away; it simply goes undercover during sleep. Scott McKinney, a sleep scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University as well as coauthor of this study, says that alpha wave activity had been detected with EEGs that are difficult to interpret. Therefore, as the alpha wave became overshadowed by more powerful brain activity during a deep sleep, the alpha wave was undetectable on an EEG.
The impact of this study has solidified that sleep is a dynamic process and not a series of exclusive stages of brain activity. Rather, brain activity is constantly changing cycle during sleep. Alpha wave activity decreases as a person goes deeper and deeper into sleep and increases as a person becomes more awake in a lighter sleep. This suggests that the purpose of alpha wave activity is to keep a sleeping person alert and aware of their surroundings. On the other hand, increased alpha wave activity might also have a downside of preventing a good night of sleep. People suffering from insomnia commonly complain about not being able to attain a restful night’s sleep; however EEGs typically do not show any abnormalities. Being able to conduct a more detailed analysis of depth of sleep by measuring alpha wave brain activity may be the answer that those suffering from insomnia have been looking for.
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Written by: Melissa Marques