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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern: Acoustic Stimulation During Sleep Could Improve Cardiac Health

Gentle sound stimulation during sleep improved cardiac function in patients, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study published in the journal Sleep.

This is the first evidence that enhancing sleep can boost the autonomic nervous system, which controls things like heart rate, digestion and breathing, according to Dr. Phyllis Zee, the Benjamin and Virginia Boshes Professor of Neurology and chief of sleep medicine, was senior author of the study.

Dr. Daniela Grimaldi, research assistant professor in the Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology, in the Division of Sleep Medicine, and Ms. Penelope Papalambros, a seventh-year student in Northwestern University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD Program, were co-first authors of the study.

Slow-wave sleep is the deepest phase of sleep, where the brain recovers from its daily activities. The Northwestern team has previously shown acoustic enhancement of slow-wave sleep improved memory consolidation, but the effects on the autonomic nervous system have gone unstudied thus far.

Dr. Grimaldi, Ms. Papalombros and other colleagues gave 20 healthy participants one night of acoustic stimulation and one night of placebo stimulation, where individuals followed the same procedures but did not hear any noise.

“The acoustic stimulation reads an individual’s brain waves in real time and precisely delivers a short burst of pink noise to help synchronize communication of neurons in deep sleep,” said Zee, who is also director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine and a professor of neurology in the Division of Sleep Medicine.

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