Half Of Your Brain Stays Awake When You Sleep Somewhere New

Whether it's a business traveler in a strange hotel room or a child at a sleepover, most people don't sleep very well in a new location, and research finally points to why. For a study published in May 2016, researchers from Brown University combined sleep-study techniques with brain imaging to precisely measure participants' brain activity as they spent their first night in a sleep lab. They consistently found that a particular network in the brain's left hemisphere remained more active than the right hemisphere, especially during deep or "slow-wave" sleep. Here's the part that will sound familiar to anyone who's experienced what scientists call the "first night effect": the network that stayed active, called the default mode network, is the one that causes that worried, depressed, obsessive voice in your head -- hence why you might find yourself up all night, reliving an awkward situation from high school. Researchers think this activity is a survival strategy to keep you safe when sleeping in an unfamiliar environment.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The default mode network of the brain's left hemisphere remains more active during the slow-wave phase of sleep the first night in a new place. 00:39

  2. The default mode network is the brain region concerned with introspective chatter -- the part responsible for the worried, depressive voice in your head. 00:49

  3. Marine mammals exhibit unihemispheric slow-wave sleep, essentially resting the brain's halves in shifts. 01:38

Written by Curiosity Staff June 14, 2016

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