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Four reasons why your brain needs sleep

by , 26 September 2017
Four reasons why your brain needs sleep
Researchers have come up with a number of different theories as to why we sleep. If there's one that they all agree on, it's that the brain does lots of work while we're sleeping.

This theory may confuse you because you'd think that while you're unconscious, your brain is “off” and doesn't do any work at all. However, when you're asleep, your brain is incredibly “on” in many ways.

There's lots more to figure out about the link between sleep and brain function, but here are four reasons why your brain needs sleep - and why things can quickly go downhill without it.

Four ways in which sleep affects your brain function

#1: Sleep improves your memory
One of the most important roles that sleep plays in brain function is that it helps solidify your long-term memory. It does this by strengthening certain neural connections and reducing unwanted ones. To put it in simpler terms: Your brain makes tons of connections each day and can’t possibly save all of them, so while you sleep, it streamlines the connections it “needs”.
 
#2: Sleep is critical to cognition
There’s a body of research to prove that sleep goes hand in hand with your cognitive capacities such as cognition, attention and decision-making. When you’re sleep deprived, your executive function you’re unable to function at a higher cortical level and carry out tasks such as multitasking. Driving is one of the most intensive multitasking activities you do on a daily basis – it requires you to be aware of what’s going on while using your hands, feet and vision.

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#3: Sleep clears out toxins in your brain
One of the more recent discoveries about sleep and brain function is that your brain clears out toxins much more rapidly while you’re asleep than while you’re awake. Research explains that the lymphatic system of your brain, known as your glymphatic system, opens up at night and gets rid of toxins while you’re asleep.
 
#4: Sleep loss is associated with depression
Sleep problems and depression are intimately intertwined. People who suffer from depression either sleep a lot or have a tough time sleeping. Research also suggests that depression can worsen, if not cause, depression. So which comes first – sleep problems or depression? It’s a chicken-or-egg relationship. Some studies have found people who sleep less than six hours a night are at higher risk of depression, while others have found that those who sleep for more than eight hours a night carry the same risk.
 
Do you now understand why sleep is key to optimal brain function?

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