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Scientists have figured out how our brains sharpen our memories while we sleep

Scientists have figured out how our brains sharpen our memories while we sleep
February 7, 2017 Yvonne Cassidy

It’s natural that we’re curious about why we fall unconscious for up to 16 hours every day. One recent hypothesis suggested that sleep flushes out potentially toxic proteins which build up in the brain during the day.

And recent studies have found that if we don’t get enough sleep, we increase our risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, not to mention neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Now, a pair of studies from the University of Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins University have provided evidence for another benefit to sleeping, suggesting that it allows us to ‘prune’ our memories and fine-tune the lessons we’ve learned while awake.

The so-called synaptic homeostasis hypothesis isn’t new – researchers from the University of Wisconsin developed the idea over a decade ago, proposing that sleep allows our brains to cut back the connections we develop between our neurons while we’re awake in order to make our memories clearer.

As we experience new things, our brains build or weaken connections called synapses that link our nerve cells. The behaviours and memories we develop are encoded in these interconnected webs of neurons, which rely on the size and strength of the synapse to communicate messages effectively.

The biologists responsible for the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis argue that the process of building such networks is a little too enthusiastic during our waking hours. Sleep provides a quiet opportunity for the brain to selectively downscale the networks we build while we’re conscious.

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Source: ScienceAlert


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