The Week in Sleep News: February 2, 2024

Medical clowns, clowns that come into hospital settings to cheer patients up, may improve sleep quality in children.

Two people sitting up in bed reading newspapers. Text reads: Sleep News Week of February 2, 2024

This week in sleep news …

AI can improve learning by mimicking human sleep

Sleep is good for humans, but it turns out it may be helpful for artificial intelligence too. New research has found that building AIs that sleep and dream may lead to better results and more reliable models. This discovery came about as researchers were looking into how to avoid a phenomenon known as “catastrophic forgetting,” in which an AI model trained to do a new task loses the ability to do jobs it previously aced.

To try to avoid this, researchers developed a new way of training AI called wake-sleep consolidated learning (WSCL), which mimics the way human brains reinforce new information. AIs using WSCL are trained as normal on a set of data for the awake phase. But then they are also programmed to have periods of sleeping, during which they parse a sample of awake data, as well as a highlight reel from previous lessons. There is also a dreaming period where the AI consumes completely unique data made from mashing together previous concepts.

Researchers tested three existing AI models using a traditional training method, followed by WSCL training, and compared the performances. Researchers found this new technique led to a 2% to 12% accuracy boost.

Medical clowns boost sleep quality and reduce hospital stay for children

In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, researchers analyzed the impact of medical clown interventions on sleep quality and hospital stay duration for pediatric patients. The study involved pediatric patients ages 2 to 17 years, who were predicted to stay for at least two nights. One group received standard medical care and a bedtime session with a medical clown who used relaxation techniques like music or guided imagination for 15 to 30 minutes. The control group received standard care without a medical clown. Both groups wore Actigraph devices, with a questionnaire completed by the primary caregiver.

The study found that the group that met with a medical clown before bedtime had an improved total sleep time sleeping 54 minutes longer, as assessed by both objective measures and parental estimates. This included improved sleep efficiency, lower sleep after wake onset, and later wakeup time. Considering the importance of sleep for recovery, the results support the need for a larger-scale study of the benefit of medical clowns for pediatric patients.

Too little sleep leads to poor brain health

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that short sleep is associated with poorer neuroimaging in middle-age adults. This study looked at brain images of around 40,000 asymptomatic 40- to 69-year-old adults to see how their sleep habits may impact their brain health. The researchers found that getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep is significantly correlated with the presence of a marker known as white matter hyperintensities (WMH) and with WMH volume. As sleep is a modifiable risk factor, the finding supports the benefit of early intervention for recognizing risk factors.

In social media news …

Meghan Trainor opened up this week that she, like many parents, has found sleep training to be a challenge with her second son, Barry. The singer told People that she’s “the worst” at sleep training. “Riley was such an easy baby that I was like, 'I'm going to have six. This is whatever.' Barry's a fun challenge," Trainor told the magazine.