The brain, “a GPS recalculating” in quarantine: technology can help study sleep and memory in this period “


In times of coronavirus quarantine, insomnia and poor sleep quality are common. Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) had already considered these problems as an epidemic. Sleeping poorly or poorly can lead to neurological and cardiovascular disorders.

Faced with global uncertainty regarding the advance of COVID-19, people should be aware of the importance of taking care of our immune system in this context. “Sleep is a necessary and vital physiological process of the human being, sleeping well is one of the most important learning”, points out to Infobae Claudio Waisburg, neuroscientist, director of the SOMA Neuropediatric Institute.

The neurologist explains that, during sleep, contrary to popular belief, it is not all passive, but that there are many active processes because, even metabolically, there are many moments of activity. Memory consolidation is generated during sleep and insomnia, as a sleep disorder, can cause a person to “not work well” the next day, without properly consolidating the day’s records, that is, without memorizing them properly.

The current process of uncertainty, of how long we are going to be in quarantine, to be constantly informed of how many cases in the world and how many deaths there are in the country, if it is coupled with little physical activity and with inadequate schedule changes. young people, adolescents or boys, it is very harmful to sleep, to routineWaisburg adds.

So, the specialist recommends not to be in “summer mode”, in which teens stay up all night and get up late during the day. “That doesn’t have to happen. And adults must have a routine in the day for night to be a proper process, “he says.

He also points out that the entire world is adapting today to new paradigms. “Our brains are trying to adapt to these realities that test us and it is like a GPS that has to recalculate a new route, we have to help the brain to find it, like the current one, to get used to it and to generate the habit to be able to automate certain routines beneficial to people“Ends.

In this sense, it is important to add physical activity to the routine. However, according to a report by Fitbit, which analyzed the behavior of 30 million smartwatch users, Spain and Argentina are among the two countries that register the greatest drop in physical activity, analyzing the week of March 22 of this year. year compared to the same week in 2019.

Sleep and Memory Laboratory

Weeks ago, the ITBA (Technological Institute of Buenos Aires) inaugurated its Dream and Memory Laboratory, by the hand of the Bioengineering Department. The objective is to analyze how true and false memories are formed while they can be modified during sleep and wakefulness, as well as to understand physiological and altered states of consciousness during sleep.

“In our studies we combine electroencephalography analysis, learning, consolidation, reconsolidation, analysis of potential evoked during sleep by keys linked to learning, analysis of lucid periods during lucid dreaming and during out-of-body experiences initiated since paralysis. In these cases, the dreamers are trained with behavioral techniques to increase the probability of having a lucid episode in the laboratory when they are being registered, “he explains to Infobae Dr. Cecilia Forcato, director of the laboratory.

When sleeping, mainly during deep sleep, the new memories are spontaneously reactivated and transferred from the hippocampus to the neocortex, redistributing themselves in cortico-cortical circuits, which favors long-term storage and the integration of new information with pre-existing memories. And what will our quarantine memories be like?

In principle, as Forcato points out, quarantine changed our daily rhythm. “Get up and go to bed at a certain time, take the bus, go to school, work, the gym, go home. The routine, although sometimes it seems exhausting, gives order to our life ”, he points out.

On the other hand, for many people who live alone, social life was reduced to a video call and the number of hours that are exposed to sunlight was modified in some cases (those who live in buildings, without balconies, for example).

“Per se, What changed us was not directly the fact of being locked up. We forcibly became aware that we are all vulnerable to this virus. And the uncertainty of what will happen tomorrow and our negative thoughts make us ruminate and imagine possible scenarios at night, instead of giving ourselves over to sleep (added to the changed rhythm, lack of physical activity, poor light, etc.). All this has a negative impact on our health, at a time when, on the contrary, we must help raise our immune system“He maintains.

Sleep participates in metabolic regulation, as well as tissue repair, and cleanses our brain of free radicals and aberrant proteins, such as beta-Amyloid, the precursor of Alzheimer’s disease.

So does quarantined memory work differently? Do we dream differently? “In order to answer this, we designed an experiment that we are running from the beginning of the quarantine to see how our acquisition and consolidation capacity changes throughout this period, and in turn how our anxiety, mood, sleep structure changes. , etc ”, says the expert.

Although he emphasizes that we must wait for the results of the studies to answer the question, he says: “I can anticipate that we are seeing that the ability to acquire new information, more than anything else, is altered and that in turn they present a greater state of anxiety. Likewise, we must collect more data to see if this trend continues and also analyze what happens with other phases of memory and what variables (quality of sleep, level of anxiety, etc.) correlate with these changes. ”

Technology to analyze sleep

Currently, this ITBA laboratory is developing a wireless closed-loop acoustic stimulation device in collaboration with the Pladema Institute and the CIC-ITBA Computational Intelligence Center, to increase the quantity and quality of slow waves so that, for example, it can be used in older adults.

“This device will also have the subsequent classification of sleep phases, using Machine learning (machine learning). It should be noted that older adults have a decrease in the amount of deep sleep, MOR sleep, and an increase in awakenings. Slow waves, both in quantity and quality, decrease as we get older (already at 40 this decrease begins to be observed!)“, He says.

Likewise, with the ITBA CIC they are starting to use algorithms designed by Dr. Rodrigo Ramele for the detection of specific events during sleep, to study its role in the labilization / re-stabilization of memories during sleep and its comparison with events induced by the presentation of stimuli.