Some animals, such as birds, dolphins, and whales, can engage in uni-hemispheric sleep, in which one hemisphere of the brain sleeps while the other hemisphere remains awake. Staying half-awake allows animals to literally "keep an eye open" for predators, and for migrating birds, allows for uninterrupted flight for days or even weeks on end.⠀
Although uni-hemispheric sleep is not known to occur in humans, recent research has found that humans exhibit a similar sleeping style when they experience troubled sleep in a new location for the first time, called the "first night effect." This effect involves asymmetric dynamics between the two hemispheres: while the right hemisphere engages in normal slow-wave sleep, the left hemisphere experiences shallower sleep, suggesting that it may be staying partially alert.⠀
Now in a new study, researchers have further investigated the underlying mechanisms of this sleep activity in order to develop a model of uni-hemispheric sleep in the human brain. The paper, by Lukas Ramlow et al., is published in a recent issue of EPL.⠀
"Our research has shown that spontaneous dynamic symmetry breaking of the two brain hemispheres is possible also for humans," coauthor Eckehard Schöll, a professor of theoretical physics at Technische Universität Berlin, told Phys.org. "Since different sleep stages are associated with different degrees of synchronization, I believe that some weak form of uni-hemispheric sleep, i.e., different sleep depth of the two hemispheres, can well occur in humans, not only in whales, dolphins, seals, and migratory birds."⠀
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