Are we really rebalancing the brain while we sleep?

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Rebalancing the brain

BrainBlogger presents new findings regarding the functioning of sleep and how our brain creates memory. The most interesting fact is, that rebalancing the brain is happening when we are awake – and not when we are asleep.


“Why Do We Need to Sleep?

by Viatcheslav Wlassoff,
May 15

Why exactly we need to sleep still remains unclear, despite the fact that we spend approximately one-third of our lives doing it. To date, it has long been believed by scientists that sleep is a means by which the brain can “re-balance” itself.

The main idea, which has been the general consensus, is that learning and developmental processes largely take place when we are awake, and this in turn eventually saturates the brain because our neurons get overexcited. Hence, it would follow that sleep has been viewed as a process that is presumably needed to rebalance this state of neuronal overactivity.

Sleeping, waking up and “rebalancing” the brain

Contrary to what was believed for the past decade, recent findings show for the first time that the homeostatic rebalancing of the brain happens when we are awake. In a new study, scientists reported that when the activity of neurons is suppressed in rats, the rebalancing process only occurred specifically when the animals were awake. This implies that homeostatic recovery of neuronal firing is enabled by wake states while simultaneously inhibited by sleep states.

Specifically, the scientists looked at individual neurons in a region of the brain called the visual cortex. The firing rates of neurons was measured in freely behaving rats with obstruction of vision from one eye in both sleep as well as wake conditions. This was achieved by inserting electrodes into the rat visual cortex and tracing the neurons for nine days, which then led to the novel finding that rebalancing of the brain appeared to be more than what was previously postulated.

The logical question, then, is why do our bodies allow the rebalancing act to happen only when we are awake? One proposed reason is that it interferes with critical memory processes when we are asleep, and the sleep-wake boundary could be the body’s clever way of separating key events linked to learning and memory. More importantly, this indicates that certain “waking” processes can complement sleep-dependent ones to provide us with the vitality we need to perform our day-to-day functions, suggesting that investigating the body’s innate mechanism of segregating sleep and wakefulness could be an important direction of research in the future.”



Image via PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay.

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