Sleep and brain function are two intertwined concepts, and you cannot consider one without bringing in the other. Everyone spends a good deal of their days sleeping – at least everyone should.
Sleep helps you form and maintain the pathways in your brain that allow you to learn and create new memories. Sleep also enables you to concentrate and respond quickly to activities.
However, there has to be a certain level of sleep your body gets for you to function well. That’s why there’s an emphasis on quality sleep. Quality sleep can help your body function right, which will, in turn, communicate with the rest of your body.
This article discusses how important sleep is to your brain function and how you can reduce your risk of developing sleep-related brain disorders.
What different sleep stages mean for your brain activities
There are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Each type of sleep is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity. There are 4 stages of sleep that one goes through.
The first stage is the non-REM sleep, where you quickly go from wakefulness to sleep within a short period. It’s characterized by light sleep, slow eye movements, and muscle twitches.
The second stage is the period of light sleep characterized by more relaxed muscles and stoppage of eye movement. This is where you spend the most time.
The third stage is the deep sleep period that keeps you refreshed when you wake up in the morning. Here, your brain waves become even slower than the first two stages.
Then, there’s the REM sleep that occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. It gives mixed frequency brain wave activity that becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness.
Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.
Why the brain needs sleep
Sleep helps solidify the memory
One of the functions of sleep, which may be one of the most important, is that it helps strengthen long-term memory. The strengthening in question isn’t just about the neural connections, but also about cutting down the redundant ones.
The brain goes through a lot of activities during the day, which makes the nighttime the period where the brain can make all the necessary connections it needs and cut down on those that aren’t useful.
Brain toxins are cleared during sleep
The brain is working at every minute of the day, but it works faster and better at night, especially when it’s trying to clear out toxins from the brain. Recent research is now indicating that the lymphatic system of the brain opens up at night, and removes toxins while we’re asleep.
One reason these toxins are cleared up is that during sleep, the space between brain cells expands considerably and this makes the clearing up process faster and easier. A good deal of the toxin that gets cleared up is the β-amyloid protein – the forerunner that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep helps cognitive abilities
We find it hard to concentrate and retain information when we’re tired and don’t sleep well because sleep deprivation affects our brain function. When we falter in sleep, our cognitive capacities are affected. Sleep deprivation may affect our attention and decision-making processes.
Even if you’re able to multitask on a typical day, sleep deprivation will reduce your chances of being able to, as your brain’s executive function will be affected.
Creativity requires sleep
Sleep promotes creativity. When we don’t get good enough sleep, our abilities to get creative and think deeply will be affected, thus leading to a drop in our creative and imaginative abilities. Continuous sleep deprivation will lead to a rapid drop in our thinking, fluency, flexibility, and general creative abilities.
From our verbal memory to our abilities to solve problems, our creativity will be affected if we’re sleep-deprived. However, consciously maintaining a good sleep cycle will not only upsurge our creative juices, but it’ll also allow us to enjoy our activities better.
Physical health and longevity
Sleep is also connected to physical health. Yes, the physical isn’t as affected by sleep like mental health is, but they still go hand-in-hand in how the entire body functions.
Sleep does a lot more to the body, especially the brain even when we don’t realize it. Developing a better attitude to sleep can be the difference between a maximum and a slowed down brain function.