What Does the Brain Do While We are Asleep?
Harvard’s Dr Robert Stickgold PhD says that evolution has found that the best way to allow the brain to perform certain functions is to “take it offline”, or have it sleep.
Throughout the day, we are learning new things and taking in new information. At night while we are sleeping, the brain is figuring out what to do with that newly-learned data and how to use it.
Brain Activity During Sleep:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains that there are 5 phases of sleep, and that the electrical activity in the brain fluctuates between these phases.
Active brain wave patterns are typically seen in normal sleep, as compared to comatose patients where they are not. Specifically, REM sleep (or deep sleep) stimulates the learning areas of the brain.
It is thought that “Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction”.
Furthermore, “Neurons that control sleep interact closely with the immune system”. Think about the last time you came down with a cold or the flu. You probably felt lethargic or sluggish. The brain may be telling the body to sleep and therefore rest so it can heal.
Russell Foster, British Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University, says that some areas of the brain are actually more active during sleep than during waking hours. Better sleep impacts a variety of brain functions, including decision-making, creativity, social skills, concentration, stress and more.
This makes it even more important to focus on the quality of our sleeping hours. Meditation techniques can be a simple solution that takes very little time.
Stress, Sleeplessness and Meditation…
Coincidentally, chronic stress can lead to sleeplessness, reveals BeBrainFit.com. And what may be the best way to reduce stress? You guessed it. Meditation for sleep.
Research has shown that people who meditate regularly have better memory, creativity, concentration and focus. They also are less stressed, and they sleep better.
Whether this is due to the meditation itself, its ability to improve sleep function or a combination of both, it’s definitely having an impact on brain activity. There have been plenty of research studies to back it.
How Exercise… or How Sleep Affects the Brain
Harvard Medical School Health Blog states that regular exercise improves sleep. It also helps boost mood and reduces anxiety. Again, could the improvements in mood and anxiety be due to the exercise, sleep or both?
How Does Lack of Sleep Impact the Brain?
Sleep may assist in the functioning of our nervous system, but how exactly does lack of sleep impact our brain? In sleep deprivation studies, researchers discovered that when blood flow and metabolism slow down, so does cognitive function.
Barry Krakow, MD explains that while sleeping, the body is restoring and repairing itself. Insufficient sleep means that they body has less time to restore and repair itself, and this can affect us both mentally and physically.
According to BrainFacts.org, when people don’t get enough sleep, their memory, coordination, concentration and mood decline as well. Knowing this, we might come to the conclusion that more sleep would therefore IMPROVE memory, focus, coordination and mood, right?
A simple guided relaxation meditation for sleep can help people fall asleep faster and sleep for longer. Upon waking, they often feel more rejuvenated and energized.
Sleep Acts as the Brain’s Reset Button
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, sleep helps significantly with creative problem-solving, and it is likely that “synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber”. Studies show that even mid-day naps increase brain power because of the “reset” that occurs while we sleep.
… and Sleep Gets Rid of Trash in the Brain
Sleep.org reports that while we sleep, cerebral spinal fluid pumps through the brain. This process disposes of waste products like toxic proteins, which can eventually lead to dementia. In addition, it secures the new knowledge and protects memories that are important.