A white illustration of a brain with gears on one side against a blue background

We spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, an activity as crucial to our health and well-being as eating and drinking. We know that sleep makes us feel more energized and improves our mood – but what happens to the brain during sleep? Does the brain actually rest when we do? 

In this article, we will take a look at the connection between sleep and the brain and what happens in the brain and body when we’re sleeping.

What Happens to the Brain During Sleep?

While we rest at night, both our brains and our bodies remain active. While we sleep, our brains are hard at work, reorganizing memories and making new connections. Sometimes we can even solve problems or learn new things while sleeping. 

Sleep is integral to our lives and imperative to our health. In fact, sleep affects almost every tissue and system in the body: the brain, heart, and lungs are all affected by sleep or lack thereof. Even immune function, mood balance, and disease resistance are tied to sleep. 

Sleep deprivation leaves our brains exhausted, so they cannot function properly. Research shows that when we frequently don’t get enough sleep or get poor quality sleep, we increase our risks of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. 

At Carolina Brain Center, we take a holistic approach to healthcare, which means we treat the whole body using multi-disciplinary methods. Knowing how complex and powerful the human brain is and how sleep and brain health are intertwined, we feel it is important for our patients to understand what happens to the brain during sleep and why proper rest is important.  

A man sleeping on his stomach in a bed next to a black and white wall clock

5 Amazing Things Your Brain Does While You Sleep

Research has identified many reasons why sleep is critical to our health. When we’re sleeping, the brain is not inactive. In fact, during sleep, neurons in the brain fire nearly as much as they do during waking hours — so it should come as no surprise that what happens during our resting hours is extremely important to many of our brain and cognitive functions.

Want more insight into the connection between sleep and the brain? Here are 5 incredible things your brain does while sleeping:

1. Make decisions

The brain can process information and prepare for actions during sleep, effectively making decisions while unconscious. The brain processes complex stimuli during sleep and uses this information to make decisions while awake.

2. Preserves important memories

Getting enough sleep is vital for our brains to form new memories. While you’re asleep, the brain is busy forming new memories, consolidating older ones, and linking more recent memories with earlier ones, during both REM and non-REM sleep. Lack of sleep can impact the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory creation and consolidation. Getting adequate sleep helps us to cement the new information we are taking in for better recall later.

3. Locks in what you learn

The brain works to restore information that wasn’t ingrained during the day, such as a new password you need to remember. This is called consolidation and is important in protecting against further information loss as well as boosting your ability to learn while you are awake.

4. Clears out toxins

Did you know the brain can clean itself out during sleep? An important function of sleep may be to give the brain a chance to do some housekeeping. Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly throughout the brain when you sleep. It acts like a vacuum cleaner, whisking away waste products and toxins. If we do not get enough sleep, our brains don’t have adequate time to clear out toxins, which could potentially have the effect of accelerating neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

5. Learns and remembers how to perform physical tasks

The brain stores information in long-term memory through something known as sleep spindles, short bursts of brain waves at strong frequencies that occur during REM sleep. This process can be particularly helpful for storing information related to motor tasks, like driving, swinging a tennis racket, or practicing a new dance move, so that these become automatic. 

During REM sleep, the brain transfers short-term memories stored in the motor cortex to the temporal lobe, where they become long-term memories. So, if you want to improve your golf game, make sure you are getting enough sleep!

Understand the Connection Between Sleep and Brain Health at Carolina Brain Center

If you want your brain and body to be at their healthiest, it is important to ensure you are providing your body with the rest it needs. At Carolina Brain Center, we aim to fix correctable problems and help you achieve optimal function in areas that cannot be restored 100%.

One of the most important aspects of holistic healthcare is making necessary lifestyle changes to maintain good health. One non-invasive way to treat your ailments may be making an improvement to your sleep habits. 

Are you looking for guidance on improving your sleep and overall brain function? Contact the Carolina Brain Center today to schedule an appointment and get on your way to a healthier you.