How Sleeping Shrinks Synapses And Keeps Your Brain Healthy

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com


Did you know that sleeping not only causes your brain to shrink, but that this is actually good for you?

Believe it! A new study shows that sleeping plays an integral role in preventing our brains from becoming overloaded with information and burning out. In this article, we’ll explain these amazing new findings, why sleep is so important, and why you’re almost certainly not getting enough.

During waking hours, our brains are constantly taking in information from the environment–sights, sounds, smells, and more. We’re also always taking in intellectual information and learning new things through conversation and engaging in life’s day-to-day activities.

When this happens, new connections are formed between neurons (brain cells) which are called synapses. Over the course of the day, countless synapses are formed as the brain takes in and processes information, generating thoughts and memories. However, the brain needs to rest, just like our bodies do. If the brain stays awake for too long and too many synapses are formed, your brain kind of burns out and you find it difficult to concentrate. If you’ve ever felt mentally exhausted while cramming for an exam, you probably know what this feels like.

Sleep plays a huge role in helping the brain rejuvenate itself and be ready to function the next day. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that during sleep, the synapses formed in the brain during the previous day actually shrink by up to 20 percent. While the brain sleeps, the synapses also have a chance to recover so they can resume learning the next day.

Scientists are unsure of how the brain selects which synapses to “prune back” and which ones to leave intact, so some suggest that it may have to do with how relevant the memories contained in those synapses are, as more important memories do seem to be spared.

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