Monday, January 21, 2008

Why We Need Sleep: Downsizing the Brain?

Sleep helps us by weakening brain connections?

Plasticity, the brain's ability to change in response to its environment, is at the heart of learning. After being awake, your brain needs sleep to refresh, research says.

A new theory from University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Dr. Chiara Cirelli, associate professor of psychiatry, and Dr. Giulio Tononi, professor of psychiatry, called the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, runs against the grain of what many scientists currently think about how sleep affects learning. The most popular notion these days, says Cirelli, is that during sleep synapses are hard at work replaying the information acquired during the previous waking hours, consolidating that information by becoming even stronger.

Reporting in the Jan. 20, 2008, online version of Nature Neuroscience, the UW-Madison scientists showed by several measures that synapses — nerve cell connections central to brain plasticity — were very strong when rodents had been awake and weak when they had been asleep.

The new findings reinforce the UW-Madison researchers’ highly-debated hypothesis about the role of sleep. They believe that people sleep so that their synapses can downsize and prepare for a new day and the next round of learning and synaptic strengthening.

Read the whole thing.

If sleeping really makes you smarter, my parents' dog ought to be the most intelligent being on the planet!

Here's a plethora of advice for how to get a good night's sleep.

Also, why you need more sleep and, if you choose to ignore this advice, how to stay functional on two hours of sleep a night.

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