Global sleep crisis

A global quantification of “normal” sleep schedules using smartphone data
Olivia J. Walch, Amy Cochran and Daniel B. Forger
Science Advances 06 May 2016:Vol. 2, no. 5, e1501705

The influence of the circadian clock on sleep scheduling has been studied extensively in the laboratory; however, the effects of society on sleep remain largely unquantified. We show how a smartphone app that we have developed, ENTRAIN, accurately collects data on sleep habits around the world. Through mathematical modeling and statistics, we find that social pressures weaken and/or conceal biological drives in the evening, leading individuals to delay their bedtime and shorten their sleep. A country’s average bedtime, but not average wake time, predicts sleep duration. We further show that mathematical models based on controlled laboratory experiments predict qualitative trends in sunrise, sunset, and light level; however, these effects are attenuated in the real world around bedtime. Additionally, we find that women schedule more sleep than men and that users reporting that they are typically exposed to outdoor light go to sleep earlier and sleep more than those reporting indoor light. Finally, we find that age is the primary determinant of sleep timing, and that age plays an important role in the variability of population-level sleep habits. This work better defines and personalizes “normal” sleep, produces hypotheses for future testing in the laboratory, and suggests important ways to counteract the global sleep crisis.

The brain dictionary

Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex
Alexander G. Huth, Wendy A. de Heer, Thomas L. Griffiths, Frédéric E. Theunissen & Jack L. Gallant.
Nature 532, 453–458 (28 April 2016)

The meaning of language is represented in regions of the cerebral cortex collectively known as the ‘semantic system’. However, little of the semantic system has been mapped comprehensively, and the semantic selectivity of most regions is unknown. Here we systematically map semantic selectivity across the cortex using voxel-wise modelling of functional MRI (fMRI) data collected while subjects listened to hours of narrative stories. We show that the semantic system is organized into intricate patterns that seem to be consistent across individuals. We then use a novel generative model to create a detailed semantic atlas. Our results suggest that most areas within the semantic system represent information about specific semantic domains, or groups of related concepts, and our atlas shows which domains are represented in each area. This study demonstrates that data-driven methods—commonplace in studies of human neuroanatomy and functional connectivity—provide a powerful and efficient means for mapping functional representations in the brain.

Explore the brain model for yourself here:


Biomarker of cognitive susceptibility to sleep deprivation

Human Hippocampal Structure: A Novel Biomarker Predicting Mnemonic Vulnerability to, and Recovery from, Sleep Deprivation
Saletin JM, Goldstein-Piekarski AN, Greer SM, Stark S, Stark CE, Walker MP.
The Journal of Neuroscience, 24 February 2016, 36(8):2355-2363

Sleep deprivation impairs the formation of new memories. However, marked interindividual variability exists in the degree to which sleep loss compromises learning, the mechanistic reasons for which are unclear. Furthermore, which physiological sleep processes restore learning ability following sleep deprivation are similarly unknown. Here, we demonstrate that the structural morphology of human hippocampal subfields represents one factor determining vulnerability (and conversely, resilience) to the impact of sleep deprivation on memory formation. Moreover, this same measure of brain morphology was further associated with the quality of nonrapid eye movement slow wave oscillations during recovery sleep, and by way of such activity, determined the success of memory restoration. Such findings provide a novel human biomarker of cognitive susceptibility to, and recovery from, sleep deprivation. Moreover, this metric may be of special predictive utility for professions in which memory function is paramount yet insufficient sleep is pervasive (e.g., aviation, military, and medicine). 

Sleep deprivation does not impact all people equally. Some individuals show cognitive resilience to the effects of sleep loss, whereas others express striking vulnerability, the reasons for which remain largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that structural features of the human brain, specifically those within the hippocampus, accurately predict which individuals are susceptible (or conversely, resilient) to memory impairments caused by sleep deprivation. Moreover, this same structural feature determines the success of memory restoration following subsequent recovery sleep. Therefore, structural properties of the human brain represent a novel biomarker predicting individual vulnerability to (and recovery from) the effects of sleep loss, one with occupational relevance in professions where insufficient sleep is pervasive yet memory function is paramount.

Curiosity changes brain to enhance learning and memory

States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit
Matthias J. Gruber, Bernard D. Gelman, Charan Ranganath
Neuron , Volume 84 , Issue 2 , 486 - 496 

People find it easier to learn about topics that interest them, but little is known about the mechanisms by which intrinsic motivational states affect learning. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how curiosity (intrinsic motivation to learn) influences memory. In both immediate and one-day-delayed memory tests, participants showed improved memory for information that they were curious about and for incidental material learned during states of high curiosity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging results revealed that activity in the midbrain and the nucleus accumbens was enhanced during states of high curiosity. Importantly, individual variability in curiosity-driven memory benefits for incidental material was supported by anticipatory activity in the midbrain and hippocampus and by functional connectivity between these regions. These findings suggest a link between the mechanisms supporting extrinsic reward motivation and intrinsic curiosity and highlight the importance of stimulating curiosity to create more effective learning experiences.

Sleep deprivation dynamically alters brain connectivity

The brain functional connectome is robustly altered by lack of sleep.
Kaufmann T, Elvsåshagen T, Alnæs D, Zak N, Pedersen P, Norbom LB, Quraishi SH, Tagliazucchi E, Laufs H, Bjørnerud A, Malt UF, Andreassen OA, Roussos E, Duff EP, Smith SM, Groote IR, Westlye LT.
Neuroimage. 2015 Dec 19

Sleep is a universal phenomenon necessary for maintaining homeostasis and function across a range of organs. Lack of sleep has severe health-related consequences affecting whole-body functioning, yet no other organ is as severely affected as the brain. The neurophysiological mechanisms underlying these deficits are poorly understood. Here, we characterize the dynamic changes in brain connectivity profiles inflicted by sleep deprivation and how they deviate from regular daily variability. To this end, we obtained functional magnetic resonance imaging data from 60 young, adult male participants, scanned in the morning and evening of the same day and again the following morning. 41 participants underwent total sleep deprivation before the third scan, whereas the remainder had another night of regular sleep. Sleep deprivation strongly altered the connectivity of several resting-state networks, including dorsal attention, default mode, and hippocampal networks. Multivariate classification based on connectivity profiles predicted deprivation state with high accuracy, corroborating the robustness of the findings on an individual level. Finally, correlation analysis suggested that morning-to-evening connectivity changes were reverted by sleep (control group) - a pattern which did not occur after deprivation. We conclude that both, a day of waking and a night of sleep deprivation dynamically alter the brain functional connectome.