Early Birds and Night Owls

Homeostatic Sleep Pressure and Responses to Sustained Attention in the Suprachiasmatic Area
Christina Schmidt, Fabienne Collette, Yves Leclercq, Virginie Sterpenich, Gilles Vandewalle, Pierre Berthomier, Christian Berthomier, Christophe Phillips, Gilberte Tinguely, Annabelle Darsaud, Steffen Gais, Manuel Schabus, Martin Desseilles, Thien Thanh Dang-Vu, Eric Salmon, Evelyne Balteau, Christian Degueldre, André Luxen, Pierre Maquet, Christian Cajochen, and Philippe Peigneux

Science 24 April 2009 324: 516-519 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1167337] (in Reports)

Throughout the day, cognitive performance is under the combined influence of circadian processes and homeostatic sleep pressure. Some people perform best in the morning, whereas others are more alert in the evening. These chronotypes provide a unique way to study the effects of sleep wake regulation on the cerebral mechanisms supporting cognition. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging in extreme chronotypes, we found that maintaining attention in the evening was associated with higher activity in evening than morning chronotypes in a region of the locus coeruleus and in a suprachiasmatic area (SCA) including the circadian master clock. Activity in the SCA decreased with increasing homeostatic sleep pressure. This result shows the direct influence of the homeostatic and circadian interaction on the neural activity underpinning human behavior.

Exploring the re-wiring of the brain

Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich looks at one of the secrets of the brain's incredible power: its ability to actively re-wire itself. He's researching ways to harness the brain's plasticity to enhance our skills and recover lost function.

Think, blink or sleep on it?

Think, blink or sleep on it? The impact of modes of thought on complex decision making.
Q J Exp Psychol (Colchester). 2009 Apr;62(4):707-32. Epub 2008 Aug 23.
Newell BR, Wong KY, Cheung JC, Rakow T.

This paper examines controversial claims about the merit of "unconscious thought" for making complex decisions. In four experiments, participants were presented with complex decisions and were asked to choose the best option immediately, after a period of conscious deliberation, or after a period of distraction (said to encourage "unconscious thought processes"). In all experiments the majority of participants chose the option predicted by their own subjective attribute weighting scores, regardless of the mode of thought employed. There was little evidence for the superiority of choices made "unconsciously", but some evidence that conscious deliberation can lead to better choices. The final experiment suggested that the task is best conceptualized as one involving "online judgement" rather than one in which decisions are made after periods of deliberation or distraction. The results suggest that we should be cautious in accepting the advice to "stop thinking" about complex decisions.

Nightmares, Bad Dreams, and Emotion Dysregulation

A Review and New Neurocognitive Model of Dreaming
Current Directions in Psych Science, Volume 18—Number 2
Ross Levin and Tore Nielsen

Nightmares—vivid, emotionally dysphoric dreams—are quite common and are associated with a broad range of psychiatric conditions. However, the origin of such dreams remains largely unexplained, and there have been no attempts to reconcile repetitive traumatic nightmares with nontraumatic nightmares, dysphoric dreams that do not awaken the dreamer, or with more normative dreams. Based on recent research in cognitive neuroscience, sleep physiology, fear conditioning, and emotional-memory regulation, we propose a multilevel neurocognitive model that unites waking and sleeping as a conceptual framework for understanding a wide spectrum of disturbed dreaming. We propose that normal dreaming serves a fear-extinction function and that nightmares reflect failures in emotion regulation. We further suggest that nightmares occur as a result of two processes that we term affect load—a consequence of daily variations in emotional pressures—and affect distress—a disposition to experience events with high levels of negative emotional reactivity.

Role of Sleep in Cognition and Emotion

The Year in Cognitive Neuroscience 2009: Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1156: 168–197 (2009).
Matthew P. Walker

As critical as waking brain function is to cognition, an extensive literature now indicates that sleep supports equally important, different yet complementary operations. This review will consider recent and emerging findings implicating sleep and specific sleep-stage physiologies in the modulation, regulation, and even preparation of cognitive and emotional brain processes. First, evidence for the role of sleep in memory processing will be discussed, principally focusing on declarative memory. Second, at a neural level several mechanistic models of sleep-dependent plasticity underlying these effects will be reviewed, with a synthesis of these features offered that may explain the ordered structure of sleep, and the orderly evolution of memory stages. Third, accumulating evidence for the role of sleep in associative memory processing will be discussed,suggesting that the long-term goal of sleep may not be the strengthening of individual memory items, but, instead, their abstracted assimilation into a schema of generalized knowledge. Fourth, the newly emerging benefit of sleep in regulating emotional brain reactivity will be considered. Finally, and building on this latter topic, a novel hypothesis and framework of sleep-dependent affective brain processing will be proposed, culminating in testable predictions and translational implications for mood disorders.

Act out your dreams

Neurology. 2009 Feb 10;72(6):551-7.
Oudiette D, De Cock VC, Lavault S, Leu S, Vidailhet M, Arnulf I.

OBJECTIVE: To document unusual, nonviolent behaviors during REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) and evaluate their frequency in Parkinson disease (PD).

BACKGROUND: Most behaviors previously described during RBD mimic attacks, suggesting they proceed from archaic defense generators in the brainstem. Feeding, drinking, sexual behaviors, urination, and defecation have not been documented yet in RBD.

METHODS: We collected 24 cases of nonviolent behaviors during idiopathic and symptomatic RBD (narcolepsy, dementia with Lewy bodies, PD), reported or observed in videopolysomnography. The frequency of violent and nonviolent behaviors during RBD was evaluated by face to face interview of patients and their cosleepers in a prospective series of 100 patients with PD.

RESULTS: Incidental cases of nonviolent behaviors during RBD included masturbating-like behavior and coitus-like pelvic thrusting, mimicking eating and drinking, urinating and defecating, displaying pleasant behaviors (laughing, singing, dancing, whistling, smoking a fictive cigarette, clapping and gesturing "thumbs up"), greeting, flying, building a stair, dealing textiles, inspecting the army, searching a treasure, and giving lessons. Speeches were mumbled or contained logical sentences with normal prosody. In PD with RBD (n = 60), 18% of patients displayed nonviolent behaviors. In this series (but not in incidental cases), all RBD patients with nonviolent behaviors also showed violent behaviors.

CONCLUSIONS: Although they are less frequent than violent behaviors, nonviolent behaviors during REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) fill a large spectrum including learned speeches and culture-specific behaviors, suggesting they proceed from the cortex activation. Sexual behaviors during RBD may expose patients and cosleepers to forensic consequences.

Human Emotional Memory

REM Sleep, Prefrontal Theta, and the Consolidation of Human Emotional Memory
Cerebral Cortex May 2009;19:1158--1166
Masaki Nishida, Jori Pearsall, Randy L. Buckner and Matthew P. Walker

Both emotion and sleep are independently known to modulate declarative memory. Memory can be facilitated by emotion, leading to enhanced consolidation across increasing time delays. Sleep also facilitates offline memory processing, resulting in superior recall the next day. Here we explore whether rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and aspects of its unique neurophysiology, underlie these convergent influences on memory. Using a nap paradigm, we measured the consolidation of neutral and negative emotional memories, and the association with REM-sleep electrophysiology. Subjects that napped showed a consolidation benefit for emotional but not neutral memories. The No-Nap control group showed no evidence of a consolidation benefit for either memory type. Within the Nap group, the extent of emotional memory facilitation was significantly correlated with the amount of REM sleep and also with right-dominant prefrontal theta power during REM. Together, these data support the role of REM-sleep neurobiology in the consolidation of emotional human memories, findings that have direct translational implications for affective psychiatric and mood disorders.

Brain Cells Have 'Memory'

Neuron, Volume 61, Issue 5, 12 March 2009, Pages 801-809
Philip O'Herron and RĂ¼diger von der Heydt

Whether the visual system uses a buffer to store image information and the duration of that storage have been debated intensely in recent psychophysical studies. The long phases of stable perception of reversible figures suggest a memory that persists for seconds. But persistence of similar duration has not been found in signals of the visual cortex. Here, we show that figure-ground signals in the visual cortex can persist for a second or more after the removal of the figure-ground cues. When new figure-ground information is presented, the signals adjust rapidly, but when a figure display is changed to an ambiguous edge display, the signals decay slowly—a behavior that is characteristic of memory devices. Figure-ground signals represent the layout of objects in a scene, and we propose that a short-term memory for object layout is important in providing continuity of perception in the rapid stream of images flooding our eyes.

The five ages of the brain

Throughout life our brains undergo more changes than any other part of the body. These can be broadly divided into five stages, each profoundly affecting our abilities and behaviour. Read this article on New Scientist on 'The five ages of the brain', looking at how the brain changes as we grow and how these transformations are reflected in our lives.

It breaks the life span down into 'five ages', with a short article for each - tackling gestation, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age.