Sleeping Serves as Learning Time for Our Brain, Study Proves
written by/ July 18, 2022
If you thought sleeping was a waste of time, think again! A new study has just revealed that sleeping helps the brain store useful information by forming long-term memories.
More precisely, the study — published in the Journal of Neuroscience — describes a unique phenomenon during sleep known as the replay effect.
In essence, replay is a strategy our brain uses to consolidate information and turn short-term memory into long-term. Scientists believe this phenomenon helps mammals learn and perfect new tasks.
That said, it was only ever proven in lab animal experiments but never on humans.
For instance, this helps mice learn new maze paths, which can be observed by sophisticated monitoring devices that highlight specific brain patterns when they choose the correct route.
However, there’s an interesting medical application for this, too. Namely, by learning more about this phenomenon, we can gain some much-needed insight that could help us develop assistive tools for people with paralysis.
In fact, a tetraplegic man (paralyzed from the neck down) at the Massachusetts General Hospital was given a memory computer game operated wirelessly via his brain activity. Sensors were placed in the part of the brain that controls hand movement to monitor progress.
During sleep, nothing short of a miracle happened — the brain cells acted as if they were still playing the game and repeated their previous communications. In other words, the replay effect was in full swing!
This marvel happens during deep sleep — one of the most important sleep stages for memory consolidation. Actually, the duration of deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep (SWS), is one of the most important parameters used to evaluate sleep quality.
This study just goes to show how crucial sleep is for helping us understand new things and how hampering sleep deprivation can be when it comes to learning.