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How half our brain keeps watch when we sleep in unfamiliar places

By Masako Tamaki and Yuka Sasaki

Poor sleep in an unfamiliar setting may be linked to an important function of the brain to protect the sleeper from potential danger.

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Have you ever arrived in a hotel room after a long flight and, despite being exhausted, found it painfully difficult to fall asleep? And even once you managed to get to sleep, did you still wake frequently in the night, or too early in the morning, feeling groggy and desperate?

Researchers have long known about this phenomenon in an experimental setting, terming it the “first-night effect”. Sleep study participants often sleep poorly during their first experimental session in a new environment and sleep quality usually improves dramatically on the second night.

So what happens in the brain when people sleep in a new place? In our study, published today in Current Biology, we found poor sleep in an unfamiliar setting may be linked to an important function of the brain to protect the sleeper from potential danger.

The first-night effect

Studies have indicated unilateral hemispheric sleep in some birds and marine mammals, where one hemisphere of the brain sleeps while the other is awake.

This peculiarity has been connected to a survival strategy. Some birds show unilateral sleep in...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.