A report in Current Biology with a sleep-inducing title like "Spontaneous brain rhythms predict sleep stability in the face of noise" is not something you expect the media to jump on.
But they did. The story raced around the world faster than a good dream.
What a Harvard-based team found was that sleep spindles, a set of brain waves produced by the thalamus, have the effect of keeping us snoozing in the face of disturbance.
Those who can sleep through anything have lots of them. (Find out how many nursing mothers produce -- I'm guessing fewer than new fathers.)
When you see a little kid in bed twitching, what follows in their little mind is probably a spindle. The little guys show up clearly on an EEG. Spindles are good things.
The Harvard experiment found some excellent sleepers, connected them to EEGs in a comfy bed, sent them off to dreamland, then gradually raised the decibel level of ambient noise until the sleepers woke up. Those with the most spindles had the highest tolerance for noise.
So how do I get some of those sleep spindles, you may ask.
One way is to spend the day learning, according to a 2002 German study. Subjects who spent time before sleep in a learning activity had more spindles, especially early in their sleep cycle, than those who had spent the previous minutes vegetating.
Sleeping pills may help. Fundamentals of Sleep Technology, published in 2007, indicates spindles are a side-effect of some sedative-hypnotic sleeping aids, which are among the most dangerous sleep aids out there.
The easiest way to encourage spindles may be to keep your sleep chamber quiet and dark. This will give you the maximum chance of having them. A white noise generator may help if you live in a loud urban neighborhood.
Increasing the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of your walls may also help block out outside noises. Earplugs can work (if you can stand them).
With enough active learning, and a little technology, you have your best chance of catching those spindles that represent good z's. Maybe you should curl up with Smartplanet before you go to bed tonight.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com