•Sleep keeps us healthy and functioning well. It allows our bodies and brain to repair whilst recharging and reflecting.
•Research from the last 20 years indicates that sleep does more than simply give us the energy we need.
For many of us, sleep just forms part of our everyday routine or a time to relax.
Sleeping keeps us healthy and functioning well. It allows our body and brain to repair, restore, and reenergise.
If you do not get enough sleep, you may experience side effects like poor memory or focus, weakened immunity, and mood changes.
However, sleep research from the last 20 years indicates that sleep does more than simply give us the energy we need.
It helps us learn, memorize, retain, recall, and use new knowledge to come up with creative and innovative solutions.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience may help explain how humans form memories and learn.
After studying laboratory animals scientists discovered a phenomenon known as “replay” that occurs during sleep.
Replay, according to neurologist Daniel Rubin of the MGH Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery and the lead author of the study, is theorized to be a strategy the brain uses to remember new information.
“If a mouse is trained to find its way through a maze, monitoring devices can show that a specific pattern of brain cells, or neurons, will light up as it traverses the correct route,” he said.
“Then, later on while the animal is sleeping, you can see that those neurons will fire again in that same order.”
Scientists believe that this replay effect allows memory to be consolidated; that is, converted from short-term memory to a long-term.
However, replay has only been convincingly shown in lab animals.
“There’s been an open question in the neuroscience community: To what extent is this model for how we learn things true in humans? And is it true for different kinds of learning?” asks neurologist Sydney S. Cash, and co-author of the study.
Cash notes how understanding whether replay occurs with the learning of motor skills could help guide the development of new therapies and tools for people with neurologic diseases and injuries.
In support of this, another study carried out by the University of Pittsburgh showed that mastering a new skill, whether a sport, an instrument, or a craft takes time and training.
While it is understood that a healthy brain is capable of learning these new skills, how the brain changes in order to develop new behaviors is a relative mystery.
More precise knowledge of this underlying neural circuitry may eventually improve the quality of life for individuals who have suffered brain injury by enabling them to more easily relearn everyday tasks.
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Get some sleep!