What Happens to Our Brains When We Sleep?
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Sleep has been a mystery for a long period of time though scientists have conducted countless hours of research to find out what is happening while our body rests. Research continues to find out what our mind and our body does during periods of rest. Sleep helps to reenergize the body’s cells, clear waste from the brain, and support learning and memory. Sleep also plays a role in regulating mood, appetite, and libido.

Sleep is very complex. Both slow-wave sleep (SWS) which is a deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) or dreaming sleep are generated by the brain. Most of our time sleeping is spent in a deep sleep which is characterized by large, slow brain waves, relaxed muscles, and slow, deep breathing. This helps the brain and body recharge after a long day. Just what happens to our brains when we sleep?

The Stages of Sleep

When we are sleeping, our brain does not just turn off. The brain is put to sleep in stages. The brain areas that produce SWS waves is where sleep starts. There is evidence to support the idea that two groups of cells – the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus in the hypothalamus and the parafacial zone in the brain stem – prompt SWS. When these cells are in action, a loss of consciousness is triggered.

Following SWS, REM sleep comes into play. The brain becomes active and the body’s muscles are paralyzed. The person’s breathing and heart rate become erratic. The purpose of REM sleep has yet to be identified. Though scientists have an increased understanding of biochemistry and neurobiology, there is little consensus on why our body’s produce REM sleep.

A small group of cells in the brain stem – the subcoeruleus nucleus – controls REM sleep. If those cells are injured or diseased, people will not experience the muscle paralysis that takes place during REM sleep. This is dangerous and can lead to REM sleep behavior disorder. The disorder causes people to violently act out their dreams.

Recovery and Repair

Quality and quantity of sleep are both important. Most people require 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to have their bodies and minds rejuvenated. If you get less sleep than that, your body does not have time to go through all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and the release of hormones that regulate growth and appetite. If we do not get enough sleep, we are not prepared to concentrate, make decisions, and fully engage in daily activities.

When you are sleeping your brain clears out the trash. Cerebral spinal fluid pumps through the brain more quickly when you sleep. It gets rid of waste products that if left there, lead to dementia over time. While you are sleeping your brain is also locking in what you have learned throughout the day. This is called consolidation and it also helps language skills and hand-eye coordination.

While you sleep the brain is also working on preserving important memories and keeping the chronology of events that took place during the day in order. While you sleep, your brain will enhance the experiences and memories that are important to you so that you will remember them. It also downgrades other memories that are not important such as what you ate for dinner.

The time we spend sleeping is as important to us as the time we spend awake. Some people say that sleep is a waste of time as they would rather be doing something productive however, productivity decreases if we do not get the sleep we need.

If you would like to learn more about what happens to our brains when we sleep you can get further information from the professionals at Yashar Neurosurgery in the Beverly Hills.