I still get amused by people who think sleep is a state of nothingness. Or that it's a time when the body takes a much needed time-out. On some level, it's true that sleep is a break from busy wakefulness for the body's renewal processes, but there's a lot going on up in the brain to make sleep far from a state of inactivity.
And there's also a reason why youngsters sleep so much that has everything to do with development and high activity. In a recent study presented by the University of Pennsylvania, researchers reported on the value of sleep during early life when the brain is rapidly maturing and highly changeable:
- Sleeping brains don't "rest": several cellular changes take place in the sleeping brain as certain neural networks spring into action and reorganize to take on important chores left for the sleeping human.
- Sleep turns on a switch: as soon as your body is asleep, everything is turned on that's necessary for making synaptic changes in the brain related to memory creation and consolidation.
Sleep has long been associated with memory. But this latest study is a good reminder of how active and "alive" the sleeping brain is, and how critical sleep is for both young and old.
So the next time someone challenges you to explain how sleep and action can coexist (or why "active sleep" isn't an oxymoron), you can tell them that sleep provides the brain the perfect opportunity to check off a "to-do list" while the rest of you, well, sleeps. And keeping your memory faculties up to date and ready for the next day is perhaps at the top of that list.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
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