Washington, Oct 2 : Insomniacs often turn to sleeping pills for a good night's sleep, but what if they are able to manipulate their own brains to get a nap? Well, a new study from University of Salzburg has allowed participants to "shape their own brain activity" by directly modifying certain electroencephalographic (EEG) activities - in a bid to get them slumber.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is the measurement of electrical activity produced by the brain as recorded from electrodes placed on the scalp.
In instrumental sensorimotor rhythm conditioning (ISC), patients shape their brain activity by watching a feedback screen and adjusting their behaviour accordingly.
The team showed that manipulation of sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) amplitude by ISC improved sleep quality as well as declarative learning.
The findings support the theory that an increase in relaxation and a decrease in muscle tension might lead to less movement during sleep and thereby augment the restorative and learning enhancement benefits of sleep.
This method is often as a therapeutic tool to treat different kinds of disorders, including epilepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Previous studies have also shown that ISC could be effective in treating psychophysiological insomnia, a form of insomnia associated with worrying.
The significant changes in SMR amplitude from early to late conditioning sessions confirmed the success of ISC.
The study's 27 participants were able to fall asleep faster (decrease in "sleep onset latency") and increase memory performance after two weeks of ISC.
"The aim of the study was to improve sleep quality and memory performance by 'rewarding' the existence of certain activities of the brain," said study leader Dr. Manuel Schabus, researcher for the division of physiological psychology at the University of Salzburg in Austria.
The participants were randomly assigned to either an ISC group or a randomised frequency group in order to examine the effects of ISC on sleep as well as declarative memory performance.
They attended the laboratory on 13 occasions, during 10 of which they were connected to a feedback system that allowed them to keep track of their current brain activity by looking at a computer screen.
They were encouraged to use physiological relaxation combined with positive mental activity in order to "shape their brainwaves"; all participants remained blind to their group assignment and were not debriefed until after the investigation had ended.
The study appears in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal Sleep.