Scientists from the University of North Carolina have recently revealed that a slight electroshock to the brain could be beneficial for people with autism, schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s.
People need to sleep for multiple reasons. One is that the brain processes information stored during the day, during night time. But when people have conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia, these brain functions can be compromised.
There is electrical activity in the brain at night, even when we sleep. These activity waves are called sleep spindles. So far, scientists believe sleep spindles are the building blocks of memory. They don’t yet know exactly what the mechanism is, but it is believed that sleep spindles create memories.
Dr. Flavio Frohlich and his team decided to dig deeper into the sleep matter. They conducted a study with the help of sixteen mentally healthy male participants. Their sleep phases were monitored for two nights. Every night, before going to sleep, they had to do two types of memory exercises. The first was a word-pair exercise, and the other was a sequence recognition test. In the morning, the volunteers had to do the same exercises from the previous evening, but they only had their memory to rely on.
On the first night, scientists attached electrodes to the subjects’ heads and monitored and enhanced their sleep spindles with a small electrical shock, using a technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation. On the second night, subjects were only monitored, without receiving the light electrical shock.
Volunteers who received the small electrical shock during their sleep got better results for the motor memory test, but results were not greatly different for the word association test. Dr. Frohlich believes that this is proof that spindles are an essential part of motor memory formation and that by experimenting with them, one can improve memory.
These new developments could eventually generate better treatments for many disorders such as sleep disturbances, Alzheimer’s, autism or schizophrenia. By conducting more research on sleep spindles, new treatments for cognitive disabilities or memory impairment could be developed.
What’s your opinion on this experiment? Do you think it will turn out useful? Would you volunteer? Leave a comment below! Thanks.