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Can Sound Deepen Sleep?

Research Investigates Effects of Soft Static

The key to a good night’s sleep could be the quality, and not necessarily quantity, of your rest. According to research conducted by Nelly Papalambros, a student in Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD Program, sound could improve deep sleep, metabolism and cognition.

Using an algorithm developed by Giovanni Santostasi, PhD, Papalambros conducts research using sound stimulation that is matched to phases of sleep in each of her participants. The algorithm is designed to read brain activity through EEG frequencies and customize the sound therapy that is delivered. The algorithm matches bursts of pink noise - a soft static or humming sound - according to the amplitude of each subject’s slow wave sleep, which can vary by age and person. Then, Papalambros uses spectral analysis to measure the delta waves indicative of deep sleep and note any changes between the stimulated and unstimulated sleep.

In her research, Papalambros looks at the effects of improved deep sleep on both metabolism and cognition. To test metabolism, she compares insulin, blood glucose, hormone and inflammation levels with and without stimulation in participants at risk for cardiovascular disease. In the cognitive component of her research, she tests word pairings before and after sleep. Papalambros hopes to find increased sleep quality in her participants, young and old, due to the sound stimulation.

A New Strategy Against Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation has been linked to poor cardio-metabolic functioning and cognitive problems. Most efforts to address this condition have been focused on increasing the amount of sleep and efforts to improve deep sleep have only had moderate success, often with unwanted side effects.

The customized algorithms in the Northwestern research may potentially offer a non-invasive therapy to enhance sleep quality.