Whether you get a good 8 hours sleep every night or you always feel like you could do with an extra hour in bed, there’s no doubt that your body needs sleep to function effectively. But there’s more to sleep than just topping up your energy reserves; your brain needs this time to carry out a variety of tasks that are vital to keep you healthy.
While you were sleeping last night, your brain was wide awake beavering away at the following tasks:
According to Clifford B. Saper, M.D., Ph.D., of the prestigious Harvard Medical School, sleep helps us to strengthen and consolidate memories. He found that if you teach somebody a new task and then check their performance on the same task later that day, it would not be as good as when it was first carried out. However, after a good night’s sleep, performance was equal or better. He attributes this to an improvement of memory while sleeping, with sleep being a vital component of learning.
Improving motor skills
Sleep is also an important component for improving your motor skills and muscle memory. Want to learn a new tune on your guitar? Practice it before you go to sleep and you’ll wake up with the tune firmly implanted in your brain.
Clearing away toxins
Research by the National Institutes of Health indicates that during sleep the brain flushes out toxins that have built up during the day. Dr. Saper agrees that sleep has the ability to restore vitality and the ability to do things, explaining that while awake, your nerve cells are subject to a build up of the chemical adenosine, which affects the cells’ ability to fire when they are in receipt of new information. When you sleep, the adenosine is converted back into substances which help your brain to function better.
One of your brain’s functions is decision making. When our sleep suffers, so does our decision making as our ability to self-regulate decreases, meaning that we’re more likely to make decisions which we know might not be the most appropriate.
Forming creative connections
New neuroconnections are formed during our deepest sleep patterns when the brain replays what happened throughout our day.
Did you know that even when you’re asleep, your brain will still respond to verbal commands? Research has shown that our brain remains active the whole time we are asleep, with our brains able to carry on automated tasks.