It’s the one thing all living creatures have in common, from jellyfish with no brains to Oxbridge dons with exceptional minds, we all need sleep every day.
Until recently very little was understood about why we sleep. It was assumed that it was the time when our bodies physically grew and healed themselves. Whilst this is true, in part, we now know that our muscles and bones use sleep less than our brains.
The availability of brain imaging and EEG devices that detect electrical activity, has enabled neuroscientists to watch what’s happening inside our heads in real time, even when we sleep. New discoveries are being made constantly as reported here on sleepnews.info. We already know that during sleep, our brain consolidates and makes sense of memories and experiences we’ve encountered during the previous day. Importantly, making connections between events so that in the morning we wake with a balanced outlook on the world around us.
If we didn’t sleep our heads would be overwhelmed with jumbled data without any sense of priority. This is why it really is a good idea when faced with a dilemma to ‘sleep on it’.
It is also believed that during sleep our brains flush out information we no longer need to create space. Cells throughout the body produce waste, the lymphatic system is the bodies waste disposal system, yet the brain has no lymphatic system.
A study by Jeff Iliff in 2012 found that the brain ingenuously uses cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) like the lymphatic system to evacuate waste from the brain. Strikingly, this process doesn’t occur when our brains are active and awake. During sleep brain cells contract enabling the fluid to rush through allowing the waste to be cleared out.
So, sleep is a time when our bodies rebuild but it’s also when our experiences are converted into knowledge and our brains are cleaned ready for a new day.