11/26/2013 08:23 am ET

Connections Between Brain's Left And Right Hemispheres Strengthened As Children Sleep, Study Finds

Here's a good reason to make sure your child gets adequate sleep each night.

A new study in the journal Brain Sciences shows that connections are strengthened between the right and left hemispheres of the brain during sleep, as much as 20 percent in just one night. Connections are strengthened by the formation of myelin around brain nerve fibers; myelin serves almost as a form of "insulation," and is an important part of the movement of electrical impulses between cells.

"Interestingly, during a night of sleep, connections weakened within hemispheres but strengthened between hemispheres," study researcher Salome Kurth, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.

These strengthening connections are a sign of a maturing brain, which is important to building language and impulse control skills. However, more research is needed to see how exactly sleep strengthens these connections, researchers noted.

Kurth and assistant professor Monique LeBourgeois conducted electroencephalograms on eight children at ages 2, 3 and 5, to examine changes in brain activity with increasing age. They found that as the participants got older, the connections got stronger between the left and right hemispheres.

Indeed, a past study in mice published in the Journal of Neuroscience also showed that sleep influences myelin production; getting sleep seems to turn on genes linked with myelin formation, while lack of sleep seems to turn on genes linked with cell death.



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