One of the most crucial and loved aspects of being alive is sleeping. Sleep is more or less like the maintenance services of a dealership in which you basically put your body in rest mode, allow yourself to relax, and let it repair while you indulge in your own created movies which we call dreams. While the recovery from physical pain is understood easily, how does sleeping make our brain function better as it is still active during sleep?
Types of Sleep
Before we get into how good sleep improves brain function, it is important to understand what we are referring to when we say good sleep. Basically, there are four types or stages of sleep and we keep alternating between them during a sleep session.
- First Type: This one most commonly occurs while we are traveling or lay down for barely a minute. Though your brain is logically functioning, you find yourself becoming slightly loose and doze off. In this you transition from being awake to sleep, these don’t last long and if one is not in bed you may find yourself awake within minutes.
- Second Type: During the second stage of sleep muscles starts to become relaxed. It lasts anywhere from 20-30 minutes, in this, our brain produces alpha waves. Upon waking up one might feel refreshed, it can also be seen as a quick nap. These two stages are the ones where waking up is easy.
- Third Type: In this stage, our brain begins producing delta waves. It can also be seen as the repairing phase, our muscles are completely relaxed here along with slow breathing and heartbeat. This type of sleep results in a well-rested feeling. It is this stage that is considered as a good sleep that influences brain function.
- REM Sleep: The final stage of sleep is also known as REM sleep. It is unlike any stage of sleep and sometimes is even categorized separately. Though one is in sleep here, they are not relaxed, as here the heartbeat and breathing fluctuate. Our eyes begin to move from side to side rapidly hence the name Rapid-Eye Movement sleep. This stage is responsible for the dreams and is related closely to wakefulness.
How good sleep improves Brain function?
To begin with, it is essential for our survival, and without it, we won’t survive for a long time and even if we did, we’d act like zombies. You must have noticed it yourself that one day you didn’t sleep or barely got any sleep you’d be sleepy for the starters but you’d also be highly dysfunctional, as your logical reasoning would go downhill real quick. No amount of coffee can fix that. Some believe the reason behind our average six to eight hours of sleep is evolution. As we were evolving sleeping at night in shelters kept us away from night predators, whatever the reason might be it is vital, and here’s how sleep influences the brain.
- Eliminate Toxins: Just like any other machine, where waste is generated along with the product, the brain has a similar process. This discovery is fairly new and scientists observed that even though the brain clears itself of the toxins being awake as well, it does it much more efficiently and rapidly during sleep. While asleep, the area between brain cells expands greatly which allows for better cleaning. There are a lot of toxins that are cleared at this time, but among them, β-amyloid protein is the one that particularly caught the attention of researchers as it is the one that causes Alzheimer’s disease.
- Organizing information: It was also not understood completely up until recently, but all the information that is received during the day is stored temporarily within the brain and is hard to access right away. During deep sleep, the brain drops the function of controlling the body and gets to organizing the temporarily stored information into permanent memory. It basically integrates the new data within our psyche during our rest. For instance, when you are learning how to drive it is too much information but after a good rest, you are able to retrieve the mechanics much more easily.
- Cognition and Attention: As mentioned previously, lack of sleep causes a severe lack of attention, where even if one forces to be attentive they fail to do so. Additionally, it also impairs cognition, like logical reasoning, decision making, and judgment. Researchers claim this occurs when the brain is unable to slow down and relax. As our brain is constantly being used throughout the day it requires breaks as well to perform optimally, when we are sleep deprived our brain is overworked. So upon having a good sleep, the brain is recharged and can work at its full capacity to process everything better.
- Mood: Though there are multiple factors that may affect one’s mood, sleep deprivation is among one them. Unlike other external factors that may alter the mood for a short period of time, one’s state of mind altered by lack of sleep is long-lasting and the person becomes grumpy and easily irritated. If someone is unable to sleep for prolonged periods of time or has irregular sleep, they may find they start to develop anxiety issues, and if the habit persists depression comes next. That’s why a good night’s sleep is essential in order to fix the mental state.
- Craving: Much like hunger, our body sends constant signals to our brain as well if we are sleepy. Being highly capable creatures, we are able to ignore these signals or postponed them via stimulants but not for good. If you are familiar with the feeling of starving, you will realize how much worse it is for our brain. As our brain is starved for its crucial break and unlike hunger once your body and brain reach a certain point it will simply switch off the control from your conscious mind despite the location and depending on the situation it can even be fatal.
As of today, we have significant data that shows why sleep is such a vital tool for our existence. Not only does it repair our body, but it also enables our brain to function properly and even enhance its capabilities.