What does the brain do whilst we sleep?

Sleep is an important routine for humans. Not only does a person need to rest their bodies but the brain is actively working whilst sleeping as much as in the waking hours. Numerous research and experiments have been conducted to see how the brain helps the mind during sleep, providing evidence that sleep is vital for people. (Videos Vidible. 2014)

Each night the brain generates two types of sleep: Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), a deep sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM), where dreams begin whilst sleeping. In the brain there are two groups of cells known as the ventroolateral pre optic nucleus in the hypothalamus and the parafacial zone in the brain cells, and when these cells are on, SWS begins and people begin to lose consciousness. REM begins after SWS and is created by cells in the brain stem called subcoeruleus nucleus, controlling REM sleep. (Scientific American. 2016.)

Sleep is important to the brain and cognitive functions. The amount of neurones that go through the brain whilst asleep is equal to the same amount whilst awake. Sleep is important for the brain as it completes a number of tasks whilst we are unconscious such as making decisions whilst sleeping. The brain begins to process information and making decisions, processing information whilst unconscious. A study from a journal by Current Biology, discovered that the brain processes complex stimuli during sleep and this information is used to make decisions whilst awake. (Huffington Post Australia. 2016.)

The brain also creates and consolidates memories during REM and non REM sleep. New memories form and consolidates older memories and links it to recent memories. The area of the brain involving the creation and consolidation of memory called the hippocampus, can be affected by the Lack of sleep. Dr Matthew Walker states that if we sleep before we learn, it helps prepare the brain for the initial formation of memories and when sleeping after learning, it helps save information gained in the brain. Walker estimates a drop of the ability to learn new information by 40% due to lack of sleep. (Huffington Post Australia. 2016.)

The brain also helps and boosts creativity upon waking up through the unconscious mind creating new connections that the conscious might’ve not been able to make. (Huffington Post Australia. 2016.)

There are a number of toxins that are made within the brain that is cleared out whilst we sleep, shown in a series of 2013 studies. There is space between the brain cells that increases in size allowing the brain to flush out the toxins that were built up whilst being awake. Not enough sleep can cause not enough toxins would be cleared out causing diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. (Huffington Post Australia. 2016.)

The brain stores short term memories in the motor cortex to the temperas lobe, allowing them to turn into long term memories by speed spindles in REM sleep. This helps with learning and remembering how to perform certain tasks and making it an automatic task for people. (Huffington Post Australia. 2016.)

Research is further developing over the years, dedicated to the study of sleep and will continue to develop in the future. With this research, it will help allow develop and enhance new technologies surrounding sleep as we learn more about the brain and how it works with sleep. Otherwise, it slowly will affect the way we function and think.


Scientific American. 2016. What Happens in the Brain During Sleep? – Scientific American. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-happens-in-the-brain-during-sleep1/. [Accessed 28 August 2016].

Huffington Post Australia. 2016. 5 Amazing Things Your Brain Does While You Sleep. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/brain-sleep-_n_5863736. [Accessed 28 August 2016].

Unknown. 2014. Videos Vidible. [ONLINE] Available at: https://videos.vidible.tv/prod/2014-09/29/55263f8de4b08322398296ea_640x360_LD_v1.mp4?EJTSwlvWZxbR6cJKGHwp2fpmFCudHbaPpqn9Nimg_DqX0NKD5L6IPpeGl0FuL4ty. [Accessed 1 September 2016].


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