On vacation? Still feel like you aren’t really sleeping, even after that 16-hour flight? If you find yourself in a room you’ve never slept in, you might be experiencing ‘first-night-effect’.
We’ve all been there, but science is now making it official. A study recently published in the journal Current Biology is showing that when humans sleep in a new place for the first time, only half of the brain gets proper rest while the other half is standing guard, on watch to make sure everything is safe.
The study, led by Yuka Sasaki, analyzed the brain wave patterns of 35 Brown University students.
They found that when sleeping in a new place, the more vigilant half of the brain is able to wake the sleeper up when unfamiliar sounds, smells and possible sights are detected.
Researchers measured slow-wave activity in participants brains, something that occurs during deep sleep. They detected that slow wave activity was greater in some areas of the right hemisphere on the first night in a new place, when compared with the left hemisphere.
After the first night of sleep, this inequality in activity went away.
The researchers also used sound and participants’ reaction to it, to detect how reactive each side of the brain was during sleep.
According to an article on npr.org, while intriguing, all of this isn’t entirely novel news for scientists, however. Participants in sleep lab studies have been tossing and turning for years during their first night in the lab, and often the distraction is so great that the results of the first night have to be thrown out.
In fact, it was this very fact that led the research team from Brown University to do the study in the first place in order to question what, exactly, is going on in our heads sometimes.
The results of a highly developed brain? While it may make us seem incredibly smart, interestingly, this protective instinct isn’t unique to humans notes npr.org. Birds and sea mammals regularly sleep with one eye open, so to speak, in order to be able to respond to the environment and protect themselves from predators and other dangers when at rest.
And babies also ‘keep watch’, especially during their newborn days. Infants, as all parents know, can fully wake multiple times a night, something that happens for various reasons, but one of them being, some say, to protect themselves against predators that may have been regular night dangers throughout evolution such as lions, tigers and bears.
Being programmed to wake up with a full cry will ensure that parents bring milk and fill empty tummies, but it also guarantee that creatures nearby can be scared away either by the cries or the now-wakeful guardians.
While it may have saved our lives, some wish this hyper-ability of the brain would go away. But is there any way to combat it? Not really, say researchers. Plan ahead and give yourself an extra day of rest in order to adjust to your new environs before heading into anything that requires your full attention the next day: that’s about as solid as it gets.
So, in essence, don’t participate in the Olympics or make the biggest business deal of your life after just one night away from home- even if it is a five-star resort. Your brain, fans, family and friends will thank you.