How Sleep Helps Your Brain Stay Healthy

Unsurprisingly enough, sleep is one of the most important functions for the human body. It’s a necessary task that helps refuel the body and the mind. However, research has recently shown that getting a full night’s sleep also helps you retain information better.

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It shouldn’t be too much of a shock to learn this information — after all, if you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter to finish a project, it’s hard to focus on anything the next day. It turns out there’s a scientific reason for this.

When you’re sleeping, the neurons in the brain form connections on dendritic branches. Each new action produces a different growth of dendritic branches. Running forward will have different branches than running backwards. Learning different information will cause the brain to form differently.

As you’re sleeping, the brain replays the information it learned, allowing it to “digest” it all. This replay helps us form and recall new memories. Just like when you exercise more and your body can handle more weight, your brain digests more new information and process more memories. However, if you don’t get enough sleep, it stunts the dendritic growth. Long-term effects of sleep deprivation can cause a buildup of rogue proteins, which can lead to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study performed on mice, one group slept for seven hours at night and another group was kept awake. The mice that slept each night had significantly more dendritic growth than the mice that were kept awake.

Although napping has many benefits, you’ll get the best results when you get a full eight hours of sleep. Sleeping is when you refuel. According to Dr. Jim Maas, a retired chair of the psychology department at Cornell University, sleep is especially important for people under the age of 26.

In addition to lowering your risk for hypertension, heart-related issues and even diabetes, getting a full night’s sleep helps balance hormonal issues. In addition to helping with memory, we need sleep to help reset and maintain

If you’re not used to getting a full eight hours of sleep each night, there are plenty of good tips to help you get to sleep faster. Well-known options include regular exercise — yoga is a particularly relaxing option — cutting out caffeinated and alcoholic drinks before bedtime, meditating before sleep, and upgrading or taking better care of your mattress.

If getting a full eight hours just isn’t possible, you can still take naps to experience many benefits. Short naps can help boost your creativity, while longer naps can improve your memory — though not to the extent of sleeping. A 20-minute catnap can help with your alertness and motor skill learning. Naps in general can help you maintain your focus during the day — if you feel yourself lagging a bit, try to escape for 20-30 minutes and rest up your brain.

Sleep has numerous benefits that can improve your mental and physical health, while depriving yourself of sleep can stunt your dendritic growth. Getting a full night’s sleep is the basis for living a healthy life. Getting those eight hours each night can make you more attentive and more active.

Scott Huntington is a researcher and freelance blogger. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington and check out his blog, blogspike.com

Image courtesy of [tiverylucky] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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