The function of sleep for brain

51Give reprint   Nov 4, 2020

Why do you need sleep? A new study suggests that sleep resets your brain by shrinking the junction between nerve cells and this may be crucial to human health.

Views of sleep and its purpose have changed throughout the ages, including how much sleep we consider ideal, the sleeping conditions we prefer and even whether we sleep in one large block or broken up into several discrete chunks. However, one thing never changes: People and most living things need sleep in order to be healthy and happy. New research in circadian biology suggests that our night time slumbers are important for many reasons including how sleep resets your brain, allowing it to function better over the day to come.

We tend to think of our brains as the site of thought and cognition. While this is true, the brain also acts as a control panel for many of our daily processes. Our brains coordinate every action we make, from movement to breathing. In addition, our brains must control the hormones in our body and tell cells when to perform important functions such as growth and reproduction.

The constant high level of activity in our brains leads to a great deal of wear and tear. Time is needed to perform basic cell maintenance and clear waste products. In addition, the brain needs time to grow new connections as we learn new skills and assimilate new information and memories. These functions require a great deal of time. In fact, this is why we spend around a third of our lives in slumber.

Scientists have discovered one of many important biochemical functions of sleep. The newest study showing that as we think and acquire new information throughout the day, our brain’s synapses, or connections, are under constant stimulation.This causes them to grow in size. If this growth continued, the cells would respond by down-regulating receptors and taking steps to stem the growth.

A study of mice found that their synapses actually shrunk while they were asleep, allowing new growth and new connections to be made during the next day. This trend was observed throughout the mice’s cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for thought, memory and even conscious movement.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have discovered that when young children are sleeping, their brain is very busy building and strengthening connections between the left and right hemispheres of their cerebrum. These connections are made via the splenium which is part of the corpus callosum, a thick band of fibers in the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres and facilitates communication between the two sides.

Having these initial connections made during sleep—and through daily activity during childhood—is imperative to having high-speed communication between brain hemispheres as an adult. Having both sides of your brain symmetrical and well-connected is key to maximizing learning, memory, and creativity.

In a new study, published on November 20, 2013 in the journal Brain Sciences, researchers looked at differences in brain activity during sleep as the children got older and differences in brain activity of each child during a night's sleep.

They found that connections in the brain generally became stronger during sleep as the children aged. They also found that the strength of the connections between the left and right hemispheres increased by as much as 20% over a night's sleep.

Scientists have known for eons that the brain changes dramatically during early childhood. New connections are formed through neuroplasticity and others are removed through neural darwinism. Also, a fatty layer called "myelin" forms around nerve fibers in the brain. The growth of myelin around each neuron strengthens the connections and speeds up the transfer of information throughout the entire brain.

The maturation of nerve fibers leads to improvement in skills such as language, attention and impulse control as children grow older. Scientists are still not 100% certain exactly what role sleep plays in the development of such brain connections, but they know that it’s important.

The need for sleep is common sense. Everybody knows that babies and young children require an abundance of sleep. That said, having science to remind us of the importance of sleep is helpful for keeping a good night’s sleep high on the priority list throughout our lives.

Sleep reinforces brain connectivity and learning abilities. Children sleep longer and deeper than adults. Because of the novelty of each new day, children must take in and process enormous amounts of information every day. Swiss and German researchers collaborated to examine the ability to form explicit knowledge via an implicitly-learned motor task.

In the study, children between the ages of 8 and 11, and young adults, learned to guess the predetermined series of actions—without being aware of the existence of the series itself.

The study, from February 2013, confirmed that during sleep, our brains store what we have learned during the day. “Children's brains transform subconsciously learned material into active knowledge while they sleep—even more effectively than adult brains do,” according to Dr. Ines Wilhelm of the University of Tübingen's Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Studies of adults have shown that sleeping after learning something new supports the long-term storage of the material learned. Dr. Wilhelm said, "during sleep, memory is turned into a form that makes future learning easier; implicit knowledge becomes explicit and therefore becomes more easily transferred to other areas."

Wilhelm said, "In children, much more efficient explicit knowledge is generated during sleep from a previously learned implicit task. And the children's extraordinary ability is linked with the large amount of deep sleep they get at night." He concludes that, "The formation of explicit knowledge appears to be a very specific ability of childhood sleep, since children typically benefit as much or less than adults from sleep when it comes to other types of memory tasks."

Original links:


        More Evidence Proves Sleep "Resets" Your Brain for the Next Day


        Sleep Strengthens Healthy Brain Connectivity


   How Much Sleep Do Children Need?


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