Description: You probably have had the experience of traveling somewhere, being quite tired when you arrive, and yet not sleeping particularly well on your first night in the new location. You might even have a theory for why that is. What sorts of factors might be involved? Time zone changes? Differences between the bed in the new location and your bed back home? The fact that many people develop serious sleep deficits in the last days before leaving for a vacation? All of these are certainly viable hypotheses and may well contain some truth however, the answer might also have something to do with how our brains work and with our evolutionary history.
Source: The reason why you can’t sleep when staying away from home explained by science, Ian Johnson, Independent.
Date: August 14, 2016
Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In a study looking directly at how people sleep in novel environments researchers used a combination of different brain scanning techniques to observe people’s brains as they slept in a new environment. There were two main findings in the study. The first one was that people took longer to fall asleep in the new setting, hardly a surprise. The second finding was that the left hemisphere of participants brains showed a “reduced sleep depth” when compared to that of the right hemispheres of their brains. The researchers suggested that this effect might be driven by an increased level of vigilance experienced by participants as a result of the lack of familiarity with the surroundings. Both the physical and auditory surroundings may be at play. They point out that uni–hemispheric sleep is actually very common among whales and dolphins. It may be that we humans share a less pronounced version of this brain activity pattern with our marine mammal cousins. One of the implications of this is that individuals who attend at sleep clinics to have their brainwave patterns analyzed while experiencing a night’s sleep may need to ideally spend more than one night in the clinic if the observers are to get an accurate picture of what their day-to-day sleep patterns actually look like. The researchers point out that bringing some familiarity with you to the new location, such as bringing your pillow with you, may somewhat reduce this imbalance in sleep depth across the two hemispheres of your brain.
Questions for Discussion:
- What are the researchers suggesting about the nature of our first night’s sleep in a new location specifically in relation to what you may have read or heard about the brainwave patterns associated with a typical night’s sleep?
- What are some of the potential implications of the findings reported by these researchers for when and how we sleep or for when and how we observe the sleeping patterns of particular individuals?
- What are some of the potential limitations of the research described in the article linked above what sort of studies might we need to design in order to address those limitations?
References (Read Further):
Rattenborg, N. C., Lima, S. L., & Amlaner, C. J. (1999). Half-awake to the risk of predation. Nature, 397(6718), 397-398.
Rattenborg, N. C., Amlaner, C. J., & Lima, S. L. (2000). Behavioral, neurophysiological and evolutionary perspectives on unihemispheric sleep. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 24(8), 817-842.
Rattenborg, N. C. (2006). Do birds sleep in flight?. Naturwissenschaften, 93(9), 413-425.
Tamaki, M., Bang, J. W., Watanabe, T., & Sasaki, Y. (2016). Night watch in one brain hemisphere during sleep associated with the first-night effect in humans. Current Biology, 26(9), 1190-1194.
Walter, Timothy J.; Marar, Uma (2007). “Sleeping With One Eye Open” (PDF). Capitol Sleep Medicine Newsletter. pp. 3621–3628.