Structural brain correlates of human sleep oscillations
Sleep is strongly conserved within species, yet marked and perplexing inter-individual differences in sleep physiology are observed. Combining EEG sleep recordings and high-resolution structural brain imaging, here we demonstrate that the morphology of the human brain offers one explanatory factor of such inter-individual variability. Gray matter volume in interoceptive and exteroceptive cortices correlated with the expression of slower NREM sleep spindle frequencies, supporting their proposed role in sleep protection against conscious perception. Conversely, and consistent with an involvement in declarative memory processing, gray matter volume in bilateral hippocampus was associated with faster NREM sleep spindle frequencies. In contrast to spindles, gray matter volume in the homeostatic sleep-regulating center of the basal forebrain/hypothalamus, together with the medial prefrontal cortex, accounted for individual differences in NREM slow wave oscillations. Together, such findings indicate that the qualitative and quantitative expression of human sleep physiology is significantly related to anatomically specific differences in macroscopic brain structure.
Dream-enacting behaviors (DEBs) are behavioral expressions of forceful dream images
often occurring during sleep-to-wakefulness transitions. We propose that DEBs reflect brain activity underlying social cognition, in particular, motor-affective resonance generated by the mirror neuron system. We developed a Mirror Behavior Questionnaire (MBQ) to assess some dimensions of mirror behaviors and investigated relationships between MBQ scores and DEBs in a large of university undergraduate cohort. MBQ scores were normally distributed and described by a four-factor structure (Empathy/Emotional Contagion, Behavioral Imitation, Sleepiness/Anger Contagion, Motor Skill Imitation). DEB scores correlated positively with MBQ total and factor scores even with social desirability, somnambulism and somniloquy controlled. Emotion-specific DEB items correlated with corresponding emotion-specific MBQ items, especially crying and smiling. Results provide preliminary evidence for cross-state relationships between propensities for dream-enacting and mirror behaviors—especially behaviors involving motor-affective resonance—and our suggestion that motor-affective resonance mediates dream-enactment imagery during sleep and emotional empathy during waking.
Nightmare Frequency, Nightmare Distress, and Psychopathology in Female Victims of Childhood Maltreatment
We previously reported that college students who indicated engaging in frequent dreamenacting behaviors also scored high on a new measure of mirror behaviors, which is the propensity to imitate another person’s emotions or actions. Since dream-enacting behaviors are frequently the culmination of nightmares, one explanation for the observed relationship is that individuals who frequently display mirror behaviors are also prone to nightmares. We used the Mirror Behavior Questionnaire (MBQ) and self-reported frequencies of nightmares to assess this possibility.
A sample of 480 students, consisting of 188 males (19.2 ± 1.73 years) and 292 females (19.0 ± 1.55 years) enrolled in a first-year university psychology course, participated for course credit. They completed a battery of questionnaires that included the 16-item MBQ, plus an item about nightmare frequency (NMF) in the past 30 days. NMF scores were split to create low, medium, and high NMF groups.
MBQ total scores were significantly higher for female than for male subjects, but an interaction revealed that this was true only for Hi-NMF subjects. MBQ Factor 4, Motor Skill Imitation, paralleled this global interaction for females, whereas MBQ Factor 3, Sleepiness/Anger Contagion, was elevated only for Hi-NMF males. Item analyses indicated that Hi- and Med-NMF females scored higher than Lo-NMF females on the 3 items of Factor 4 that reflect voluntary imitation (imitating famous/cartoon voices, being a physically active spectator, and learning new skills by observing), as well as on 2 other items that reflect involuntary imitation (contagious yawning and self-rated empathy). Although Hi- and Lo-NMF males differed most clearly on the sleepiness item of Factor 3, all 3 items on this factor (including anger contagion and contagious yawning) are plausibly associated with perception of and response to social threat.
Results provide evidence that among females nightmares are ssociated with voluntary and involuntary mirror behaviors during wakefulness, while among males nightmares are associated with threat-related mirror behaviors during wakefulness. They thus support the possibility that the association between mirror behaviors and dream-enacting behaviors is due to a common mirror neuron mechanism that underlies mirror behaviors and nightmares and that involves motor, rather than emotional, resonance. These results have implications for understanding the comorbidity of nightmares and other pathological symptoms such as imitative suicidal behaviors, the influence of observational learning on dissociative symptomatology, and the predominance of threat and aggression in the dream enacting behaviors of REM sleep behavior disorder.