While babies, toddlers and young children are taking in and making sense of the world, their brain cells are wiring themselves together willy-nilly, creating super-dense networks of interwoven neurons. But as we reach and progress through adolescence, neuroscientists have observed, a period of intensive "synaptic pruning" occurs in which those networks are thinned and the strongest and most evolutionarily useful remain.
In a study published last week, scientists from the University of California at Davis say they believe the slowed fluctuations observed during the delta phase of teens' sleep may be evidence of that pruning process at work.
And since major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia appear to take root during adolescence, the authors of the study say the changing architecture of sleep may offer clues as to how and when mental illness sets in.
Image: Sleeping teenager, via Shutterstock