Irwin Feinberg, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the UC Davis Sleep Laboratory said that they have provided the first long-term, longitudinal description of developmental changes that take place in the brains of youngsters as they sleep.
Feinberg explained that scientists have generally assumed that a vast number of synapses are needed early in life to recover from injury and adapt to changing environments.
However, these multiple connections impair the efficient problem solving and logical thinking required later in life.
For the current study, Feinberg and his research team monitored 28 healthy, sleeping children between the ages of 6 and 10 for two nights every six months. The new findings show that synaptic density in the cerebral cortex reaches its peak at age 8 and then begins a slow decline. The recent findings also confirm that the period of greatest and most accelerated decline occurs between the ages of 12 and 16-1/2 years, at which point the drop markedly slows.
Feinberg said that discovering such extensive neuronal remodeling occurs within this 4-1/2 year timeframe during late adolescence and the early teen years confirms our view that the sleep EEG indexes a crucial aspect of the timing of brain development.
The research has been published in American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.