Brain Health


Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times, is as essential to survival as food and water. 

Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories; and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly. 

Another thing that your brain does while you sleep is process your emotions. Your mind needs this time in order to recognize and react the right way. When you cut that short, you tend to have more negative emotional reactions and fewer positive ones. Chronic lack of sleep can also raise the chance of having a mood disorder. One large study showed that when you have insomnia, you're five times more likely to develop depression, and your odds of anxiety or panic disorders are even greater.

Sleep is also important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other.  In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep.  Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake. 

Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery.  Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.  Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

In a new twist to the story of sleep and learning, researchers have seen that we may actually be able to learn new information while we sleep. To test this idea, scientists exposed people to a sound and a pleasant smell while they slept. After the subjects woke up in the morning, they started sniffing when they heard the sound (even though it wasn't followed by a smell). In other words, they had learned the association while they slept.

The science of sleep and learning continues to grow, but it's clear that the brain needs adequate sleep to sort through our experiences, so that we can remember and function at our best and most creative the next day.