Sleep Shrinks the Brain--And That's a Good Thing!

Posted on February 7, 2017

Photo: flickr

A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Sleep and Consciousness finds that sleep produces subtle chances in the brain. Dr. Chiara Cirelli, co-author of the study, explains that during sleep our neural connections actually shrik by almost 20%, which is actually a good thing!

Researchers in this study found that during sleep the brain's synapses, which are the connetions between neurons, prepare for the next day of recieving input. By shrinking, they grow stronger, which helps solidify information more readily when learning new things. This is known as the snyaptic homeostasis. Without it, the synapses are hypothesized to become overworked and burn out, kind of like plugging too many appliances to a single electrical outlet. Thus, sleep is crucial as it provides the time for synaptic renormalization. Such a process gives our brains time to, in a sense, rejeuvinate and to consolidate all the memories and information from the previous day.

According to Cirelli and her colleague, Dr. Tononi, synapses are constantly strengthening (widening) to accomdate the flow of information as our minds experiences everyday life. However, this does not go indefinitely as otherwise there would be too much information to handle. Cirelli and her team also found that not all synapses go through prunning. Only about 80% do, leaving the largest synapses left unchanged. Cirelli suggests that this is because larger synapses are associated with the most important pieces of memories and information, but it is still a mystery.

Source material from Scientific American

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