Next time you're deciding whether to postpone bedtime, consider this: your brain is super active while you're asleep, and it is getting. Stuff. DONE.
For centuries people have tried to understand sleep, and even now we're just at the tip of the iceberg: most of what happens in our brains during sleep remains unknown. However, scientists HAVE identified some really incredible things happening in your brain while you're in dreamland.
So before you queue up the next episode in your latest binge, keep in mind that these things will only happen once you shut down for the night:
So before you queue up the next episode in your latest binge, keep in mind that these things will only happen once you shut down for the night.
1. Your brain cleans house.
When you're asleep, your brain is removing damaging molecules that accumulate while you're awake. It clears out toxins involved in neurodegeneration - that is, the stuff associated with conditions like dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimers. Sleep more tonight, and - literally - you'll have a cleaner slate (and a healthier brain) tomorrow.
2. What you learned becomes a memory.
In a process called consolidation, your brain collects everything important you learned during the day - your short-term memories - and starts to pull them together into long-term memories. A lot of this happens while you sleep, making sleep an essential part of learning. In fact, if you're not sleeping enough, your ability to learn new information can drop severely.
3. The great stuff gets separated from the boring stuff.
Almost like it's studying for a test, your brain spends the night going through your day; linking it to older memories; discarding what's less important; and making sure you remember the stuff that is. This is especially true of emotional memories: for example, your brain may decide that the drinks served at your party tonight weren't worth remembering. But the fact that it was a surprise birthday party thrown by all your best friends will stick with you, linked to the rest of your memories about birthdays, friends, surprises, and more.
4. Things get creative in there.
While you're sleeping, your brain is making connections: these include what researchers call "remote associates," or connections between unrelated or unusual things. Sleep can make these abstract relationships clearer, causing important insights and providing a powerful boost to creativity.
5. Your new dance moves become second nature.
Particularly during REM sleep, your brain is storing information about motor tasks: things you do with your body, like surfing or dancing or driving a stick shift. While you're in deep sleep, short-term muscle memories like the dance move you just learned or the pop-up you've been practicing are moved into a place in the brain that helps them become long term memories, things you can do automatically. That means that while you're sleeping, you're actually becoming a better dancer! Or driver, or surfer. Mind-blowing, right?
6. Your brain keeps you from acting out your dreams.
Ever woken up and, for a second, felt like you couldn't move? That's because while you're asleep, your brain actively shuts down some of your limb muscles to keep you from acting out whatever crazy things are happening in your dreams. And if you think this is NBD, Google "REM Sleep Behavior Disorder" - the rare disorder that occurs when a person's brain can't make this temporary sleep paralysis happen.
7. Even though you don't know it, you're making decisions.
New research suggests that not only is your brain processing information while you're asleep, it can use that info to prepare for future actions, too. So when someone tells you to sleep on it - well, you definitely should!
Having trouble sleeping? It's time to figure out why. Use tools already at your fingertips to diagnose sleep issues in 5 steps.