Why you Don’t Sleep Well the First Night in a New Place
To most scientists, discarding data is like throwing money in the trash. But for sleep researchers, it’s routine to get rid of half of the findings from every experiment.
That’s because most people sleep badly their first night in a new place, whether it’s in the closely monitored hush of a sleep lab or a wind-whipped tent in the desert. And so researchers consistently discard their observations from someone’s first night in the lab, only paying attention to the second, when participants have fallen back into their usual nighttime rhythms.
Now, neuroscientist Masako Tamaki and her colleagues at Brown University have turned what was once considered scientific garbage into a goldmine.
In a paper published Thursday in Current Biology, they revealed the brain science behind our restless shut-eye when we arrive in a new place, finding that certain circuits in the left side of our brains remain aroused while the rest of the brain slumbers more deeply.
“Sleeping for the first night in an alien environment puts us in a state of hypervigilance,” said Thomas Roth, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, who was not involved in the study. “We did not know that until this paper.”
Perhaps the finding shouldn’t come as a surprise given our evolutionary past. Seals, for example, keep one whole side of their brain turned on when sleeping out in the water, while their entire brains surrender when they nap on the beach. Birds do something similar.
To figure out what was going on in humans’ brains — and help explain the so-called “first-night effect” at a neuroscientific level — Tamaki and her team didn’t ask participants to sleep out in the ocean. Instead, they brought 35 young, healthy volunteers into a soundproofed sleep chamber in their basement lab here at Brown… Read More>>