A third of our lives are spent sleeping. Some people consider this to be a waste of valuable time. Sleep helps your body in more ways than you probably know, however. Sleeping is very important for health and well being - even more than eating. We know that sleep helps us regain energy and improves our mood. But sleeping is also a vital part of brain function. The brain continues to be active during sleep, unlike the body, which is at rest.
Here’s more on how sleep helps our brain functions.
The brain uses the time you spend asleep to aggregate information to form new memories and to consolidate old ones. The brain organizes the information so that it can easily make connections between old and new memories. This activity in your hippocampus happens during all stages of sleep. If you don’t sleep enough, your memory is therefore directly affected.
Because sleep helps you form and organize memories, it is also very important for learning. Sleep helps you make the neural connections between bits of information and store them properly so you are able to recall them better later on, and are less likely to forget them. In addition, sleep helps prepare your brain to take in new information and form new memories.
Have you ever joked about making bad decisions because your brain is asleep? Well, you won’t anymore after reading this. Sleep helps the brain process information and get ready to put it into active use. Essentially, you are actually making decisions while you sleep, so that when you wake up, you can act on them.
Sleep helps the brain to process complex stimuli so that you understand it and have the processed information available to you when you’re awake. Moreover, sleep helps you learn new things. You may not consciously remember things that you hear, for instance, while you’re asleep, but research has shown that the brain continues categorizing and preparing to act on this new information.
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Sleep helps your brain become more creative. When unconcious, your brain is a processing powerhouse. Your brain can make connections between bits of information that you would likely not be able to make while conscious.
Remote, or unusual associations, are made during sleep. This means that sleep helps you to think of things when you wake up that you would never have been able to do if you had worked on a problem while you were awake. So if you ever find yourself stumped, go ahead and take that piece of age old advice and sleep on it - it will really help.
Did you know that you can even learn to do different physical activities while you sleep? During the REM stage of sleep, your brain moves information into long-term storage. With short bursts of brain waves at powerful frequencies, your brain processes motor tasks - among other information.
This means that you can learn how to do things like driving, playing a sport, or a new dance, all while you sleep. In a way, sleep helps you practice these physical activities so that when you wake up, you are actually able to do them better because the motor skills that you have “practiced” as you slept have already become automatic.
So sleep helps you perform tasks better, not only because you are rested, but because you have gone through an important step in the learning process by allowing the brain to transfer short-term memories from your motor cortex - new things that you are learning now - to your temporal lobe for long-term storage - the things that you already know.
Sleep helps with your biological brain processes, too, and not just information and learning. The brain, like any other part of your body, is made up of living cells that degenerate. Research has shown that sleep helps your brain to remove molecules that contribute to neurodegeneration.These toxic molecules build up during our waking hours, so it makes sense that there are more of them the longer we are awake. Moreover, if you don’t sleep enough, there isn't much time for your brain to flush them out. This means that they build up more, and stay in the brain for longer.
Sleep helps our brains clean up so we can stop the acceleration of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
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