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Surprising Science

For a Better Brain, Sleep Well

While the purpose of sleep is still not perfectly clear, neuroscientists increasingly believe we need sleep to rest the brain, restoring neurons to a restful state in order to learn better. 

What’s the Latest Development?

By scanning the brains of animals like rats, mice and fruit flies, scientists are arriving at a better understanding of why we need sleep. The scans reveal significant differences in animals that have had a good rest and those that haven’t. Without sleep, the brain shows high concentrations of Bruchpilot, which are synaptic protein involved in communication between neurons. Well rested brains show lower levels of Bruchpilot, suggesting that it has been reset to a normal level of synaptic activity and is more ready to learn. 

What’s the Big Idea?

While an awake brain is more stimulated, our thinking organ cannot handle unbridled activity. Neurons have a threshold past which the communication of information is inhibited. This is why, after a restless night, people say they are unable to concentrate on the day’s tasks. By restoring the brain to a restful state, neurons are more prepared to activate the following day and learn from the surrounding environment. The brain’s daily rejuvenation process is known as ‘synaptic homeostasis.’

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