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How a Sleep Spindle Influences Your Sleep Pattern

A sleep spindle is a type of electromagnetic wave found in the brain. These waves are detected and measured by the use of electroencephalographic (EEG) tests. These spindles are most commonly found during stage two of the five stages of sleep and are frequently called sigma waves or sigma bands. They usually occur between 11 and 16 hertz.

There are two different types of spindles. One is recorded at 12hertz and is known as a slow spindle. The other is a fast spindle and is recorded at 14 hertz. Hertz is the scale used to measure electromagnetic waves of any kind. Hertz equals one cycle per second. 

The existence of electromagnetic waves was first mathematically discovered by James Clerk Maxwell in 1884. It was not until 1885 that Heinrich Rudolf Hertz completed extensive testing in his laboratory and was able to create measurable electromagnetic waves. It was named after him as a tribute because he was the first person not only to prove their existence, but also to be able to measure and collect useful data.

Sleep spindles and K-complexes are two of the most dominating markers in stage two sleep patterns. They are characteristically linked with non REM sleep. When tested, key areas of the brain like the insular cortices, superior temporal gyrus, anterior cingulated cortex and thalamus have shown activation due to spindles. 

The spindles are viewed as a burst of activity in the brain. Researchers have come to believe that this activity is the brain learning, and teaching itself which muscles can be controlled by different nerves. This happens more at a younger age because the body is still developing and learning. 


Even simple tasks like hand movements are complex functions that have to be learned by the brain. During the day, the mind does not have as much time to focus on educating itself, as it is busy performing other tasks. Therefore, it does a lot of catching up throughout the night as we sleep. 


Spindles develop at low amplitudes about six weeks after birth. This is thought to be one reason why babies can twitch in their sleep. Research has suggested that it could be a direct result of the brain waves conducting a learning process as they are resting. Premature babies do not have normal brain waves and spindles, as their brain has not had the required time to develop fully at this stage. 

As well as learning while sleeping, the brain will also use this time to process new information and integrate it with knowledge that already exists. 

sleep spindleFast sleep spindles can occur when cells in the mind interact to process information. 

This may be why it is so important that you get the medically recommended amount of sleep every night.

8 to 10 hours sleep per night are needed so that the brain can work through all the processes that occur in the 5 stage sleep cycle

The more sleep you get each night, the more cycles you can allow the brain to run through.

How the Sleep Spindle is Related to Intelligence

Recent evidence suggests that the spindle can be linked with intellectual ability and could be a sign of intelligence. An IQ, or intelligence quotient, is derived from several tests and the results are often used to predict educational ability. 

Most people will average a score between 70 and 130. New research shows that it is possible for a person who has a higher frequency of spindles to score higher than the average person on an IQ test. 

sleep spindleThe brain never stops working and will continue to do so every day. If a person's brain was to show no electro-activity whatsoever, then this person would be declared 'brain dead' and that condition is irreversible. The heart can continue to function at a slow pace but breathing would not be possible as the respiratory system will not work. 

Sleep spindles made in the thalamus can help the sleeping process in a situation when external noises could cause a person to wake up. 

People who produce more frequent or greater amounts of spindles than the average person require a higher decibel noise level to be roused out of a sound sleep. 

This could be considered a real advantage to achieving proper sleep if you and your partner do not share the same sleeping hours. During the second stage of sleep your body is preparing to drift into a deeper sleep phase but is not quite there yet. As the body temperature cools and the heart rate slows, the body relaxes more and the brain tries to ensure you are not woken up so that you can move into the third stage of sleep. 

Specific brain wave studies have shown that the amount of spindles being produced during sleep may predict how deeply a person can sleep with a lot of surrounding noise.  As we age, we produce fewer spindles and are more sensitive to noises around us. This can be one of the explanations why older people don't seem to sleep as well. 

A schizophrenia patient will have different brain waves and will not show a normal pattern of both slow and fast spindles. This is because they will generally suffer from hallucinations, delusions and a breakdown of organized thought. 

sleep spindleMost people with schizophrenia will experience sleep problems at some point in their life and many do not have a regular sleep pattern at all. This can be a result of the drugs they are taking to combat their mental illness or because of a lack of consistent routine during the day. 

It's extremely important to ensure our body gets the correct amount of rest it requires to function properly. The brain needs this time to recuperate and process important information it has received during the day. A good night of quality sleep can only benefit both your mental and physical health.

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