A Good Night’s Sleep with Flip of a Switch?

The flip of a switch could become all it takes to get a good night’s sleep, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a way to stimulate the slow waves typical of deep sleep by sending a harmless magnetic signal through the skulls of sleeping volunteers.

They say it could one day be used to help treat insomnia and for power naps, where people would get the benefit of a full night of sleep in just a few hours.

The experimental technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation uses magnetic fields to alter brain activity.

It’s non-invasive and typically involves an electromagnetic coil that is held near the head. An electric current creates a magnetic impulse or field that travels through the skull, triggering small electrical currents in the brain.

In this experiment, the investigators found that with each burst of magnetism, the brains of the sleeping volunteers immediately produced the big slow waves seen in stage-three and -four sleep.

“With a single pulse, we were able to induce a wave that looks identical to the waves that the brain makes normally during sleep,” said Giulio Tononi, professor of psychiatry at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

It remains to be seen whether this kind of electronically assisted deep sleep does indeed confer benefits and whether it could enhance a person’s performance and memory, Tononi said. Further studies are planned.

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