Iowa Sleep Blog

How the Brain Works During Sleep

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

While we are relaxing and preparing ourselves for a peaceful night of sleep, our brains are getting ready to go to work. Even though we don’t know it’s happening, our brains are very active when our eyes are closed. The brain uses this “quiet” time to perform necessary tasks that help keep our brain functioning smoothly. Without this time to allow our brain to work, we can start to feel groggy, forgetful and tired.

Here are a couple things that happen in our brains while we sleep:

Process and stores information – Our brains are tasked with the job of remembering everything we do during the day. And this is no small feat, as an individual today digests more information in one Sunday paper than the average person did in their lifetime 200 years ago. From remembering the notes in science class to the name of your new co-worker, the brain catalogs all the information that happens through the day and stores it away. Because of this storage capacity, many teachers recommend students study 10-15 minutes before going to bed.

Clears out toxins – One of the most important things our brain does while sleeping might actually be cleaning. A study performed in 2013 on lab mice revealed their brains use the time to clear out toxins that build up thought out the day, as the space between the brain cells is larger while unconscious, making cleaning easier. If we don’t give enough time to sleeping, it cuts back on how much clearing the brain can do, which can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Learn and remember physical tasks – The brain moves information from short-term into long-term memory though sleep spindles, which are bursts of brain waves at strong frequencies that occur during REM sleep. During this process, the brain is remembering how to do basic tasks, like driving, shooting a basketball, and swinging a bat, so they become automatic. Eventually, these task will soon become “muscle memory” and your body will perform these tasks without having to think much about it each time.

As you can see, our brains never get a break. They need our bodies to sleep to operate at a high level, which makes getting enough sleep every night extremely important. If you know you are not sleeping enough or consistently waking up tired, consider giving Iowa Sleep a call to set up a consultation. Our doctors will work with you to learn about your sleep and lifestyle habits in order to get you sleeping well each night.