Shocker: Turbulent Teen Brains Like Adults

Brainwave patterns remain unchanged during sleep

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Parents have known since almost the dawn of time that teens are turbulent. Teens tend to be impulsive and their moods, desires, and drives are constantly changing. Scientists have now found a constant.

Researchers at Brown University identified a time during the day when teens' rapidly changing brains remained interestingly unaltered. This time is sleep time. This constant has already been observed in adults and now this study appears to support the idea that people produce a kind of brainwave fingerprint.

"Your genes partially dictate behavior."

Co-author Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at E.P. Bradley Hospitals wanted to know if some inherent quality of the brainwave signal is sustained even during remarkable changes going on during teen development.

There is indeed a constant in brainwave patterns in teenagers and children sleeping. Maybe not for every child, but for more children than not.

Tarokh shares that previous studies of EEG patterns in adult twins while sleeping had found that identical twins had more similar patterns than maternal twins, which makes researchers believe that this EEG fingerprint has a genetic basis.

With further research, the functional significance of these constant patterns could become apparent. Another question to be studied: Whether particular influences like sleep deprivation or alcohol abuse affect this seemingly constant pattern.

Carskadon believes the study gives another tool in understanding brain function and stability. These constant fingerprints may open up future possibilities and might be predictive of someone who might go on to develop schizophrenia or depression.

For now, the main takeout of this study is people have specific brainwave patterns that remain constant during their life, even when confronted with a tumultuous adolescence.

The Study

  • 19 volunteers who were 9 or 10 years old and 26 who were 15 or 16 years old to sleep for two consecutive nights in the lab
  • EEG electrodes during both REM and non-REM sleep
  • Measurements were repeated about two years later
  • Tarokh and Achermann fed mathematical descriptions of the EEG waves into a computer grouped waves of similar shapes and frequencies together
  • Computer's algorithm ended up matching all four nights of sleep for most  kids, a striking sign of  uniqueness in everyone's nature
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 11, 2011
Last Updated:
May 16, 2011