How is Sleep Important for the Brain?

Many of us are aware of how important it is to rest and sleep properly. However, we’re not fully aware of how important sleep is for the brain. Perhaps, if we knew, we would skip bedtime a little less often and be more committed to a healthy sleep hygiene. If you have ever wondered “how is sleep important for the brain?”, we’re here to answer the question.

The importance of good sleep on cognitive function, especially in the short term, is widely acknowledged. Lack of sleep impairs learning, cognitive performance, and reaction time. It is just like intoxication without the high. Additionally, scientists discovered that sleep and memory storage go hand-in-hand.


Major Ways Sleep Affects the Brain


Researches have shown that there is an unbreakable link between the quality of sleep an individual gets and brain functions. Therefore, it’s profitable to be aware of the immediate and direct impact your sleep time has on your brain and cognitive functions


- Sleep is Crucial to Creativity

When we lack sleep, we tend to lose creativity. From various studies, it is obvious that certain types of thinking seem to be affected more when people are sleep deprived. For example, divergent thinking, such as thinking out of the box in creative ways, seems to disappear when one is sleep-deprived, while convergent thinking is mainly intact. 


A study tested participants on various thinking aspects after depriving them of sleep for 32 hours. They significantly underperformed on most types of divergent thinking, including flexibility, fluency, and originality, although they persevered on verbal memory tests.

On the other hand, quality sleep encourages creativity. For example, participants in one study were asked to find various patterns hidden in questions involving numbers. The study results showed that people who got a whole night's rest were significantly more successful at solving it than those who were sleep-deprived.


Aside from the studies, many hundreds of years of experience have been documented on people who got creative insights during sleep or as they were waking up.


- Memory is Consolidated by Sleep

You've probably experienced the phenomenon of how sleep helps you remember things you learn during the day. That is one of the primary functions of sleep: consolidating long-term memory. It seems to accomplish this by strengthening certain neural connections and by pruning back others.


As the brain makes many connections during the day, not all of them are valuable. Thus, sleep is the period for the brain to sort out the connections it "needs."


One study required the participants to learn a motor routine: several buttons had to be tapped in a specific order. As a result of separating learning and recalling by one night of sleep, rather than the same amount of time during waking hours, participants performed much better on tasks.


You should also be aware that sleep also seems to aid in cementing negative memories, which contributes to depression and PTSD. In addition, recent research has revealed that negative emotional memories aren't likely to be suppressed once consolidated during sleep. As a result, good and bad memories are likely to stick around.


- Toxins in the Brain are Cleared During Sleep

In the last few years, it has been discovered that the brain clears out toxins much faster when we're asleep than when we're awake. Speaking on this exciting discovery, one professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine stated that the brain's lymphatic system is active at night and removes toxins while we sleep.


In addition, he expressed that a significant expansion of brain cells occurs during sleep, which allows the "gunk" to be easily flushed out through the cerebrospinal fluid.

It is important to note that β-amyloid protein, which gives rise to Alzheimer's disease plaques, is also a significant component of this "gunk." In the daytime, these proteins and other toxins accumulate but are cleared during sleep.


The implication of this is that better sleep patterns and hygiene can impact the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, this forms a compelling argument for the importance of good sleep.


- Sleep Aids Cognition

Numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation can adversely affect everything from cognition to decision-making. Several experts have stated that sleep plays a crucial part in higher cognitive functions, including multitasking.


One proof of this is driving and the fact that multiple accidents occur when individuals behind the wheel are not well-rested. We multitask the most when driving; our hands, feet, vision, and awareness are all used, and lack of sleep makes multitasking difficult.


The absence of sleep has also been shown to hurt cognitive functions such as working memory and attention. The results of one study showed that losing 2 hours of sleep per night for 14 days caused poor performance on specific neurobehavioral tests that involved attention and short-term memory.

Tips for Getting Better Sleep

- Set a schedule and stick to it. Stay consistent each day, even on weekends. The process of sleep is regulated by our bodies automatically. Changing the system throws the rhythm off. This results in sleepless nights, fatigued days, and inactivity during the waking hours.


- Eat healthily and watch your timing. Eat light meals before bedtime to avoid heartburn and difficulty falling asleep. Try to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages beyond 3 p.m. Your system can be impacted for hours by caffeine.


- Lights out! As the body prepares to sleep, darkness stimulates the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.


- If you want to sleep better, try avoiding alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol does promote drowsiness, but it also disturbs the sleep cycle, causing premature waking and difficulties returning to sleep.

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