Sleep and Your Brain: What’s the Connection?

effects of sleep on brain, sleep health
What do our brains do while we sleep?

Approximately 37% of Americans are sleeping less than 7 hours each night.

The CDC reported during its “Sleep Hygiene” survey conducted throughout 2008-‘09. (“Sleep Hygiene” is referred to by the CDC as the promotion of good sleep habits and regular sleep.) In this study, Americans were polled in 12 states about their regular or rather irregular sleep habits. The CDC declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.  

One aspect the CDC didn’t touch on, which has recently been garnering research attention, is how a lack of sleep affects the brain.  A study published in the Neurology Journal began to tackle this question, and its results demonstrated that poor sleep hygiene affects the right superior frontal cortex. And the study concluded that poor sleep quality could be a cause or a consequence of brain atrophy, so the results weren’t definitive, but worthy of further study. They found that an improvement in sleep quality is a viable link between brain atrophy, as well as other issues that develop in age.

Your brain is still hard at work even while you’re sleeping.


5 Things Our Active but Sleeping Brains Do:

Make Decisions

According to another study in Current Biology, the human brain is anything but asleep when we hit the pillow. Researchers found that the “sleeping brain can process spoken words in a task-dependent manner.” So, direct sounds like hearing our name or the alarm clock blaring are actually actively processed incoming stimuli, that the brain works to know to pick up.

Create New Memories and Store Older Ones

Just learned something new? Sleep on it to remember it better!

The sleeping but awake brain is busy cementing all the important new information you’ve just learned. Whether or not you’re in an REM sleep state, the human brain is reformatting your memories, connecting new and old ones together with what you already have stored.

College students probably know that a good night’s rest is important before a big exam, but would they consider a good night’s rest important before each normal day of class? A healthy Sleep Hygiene routine helps to offer the proper foundation for your brain to format new memories, and this means a good night’s rest the night before, as well as the night after, allowing the brain to properly store your newly acquired information.

Boost Creativity

According to a study conducted at the University of California at Berkley, people are 33% more likely to “make connections between seemingly distantly related ideas” upon waking. While we are asleep, our brain can make unusual connections that most likely wouldn’t occur while we are awake. So, the next time you need to come up with a great idea, head to sleep!


More sleep = less toxins. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, our brains don’t have enough time to flush out toxins. Overtime, the buildup of these toxins could lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Learn and Remember Motor Tasks

When we cycle through REM stage of sleep, our brain transfers short-term memories that are stored in the motor cortex to the temporal lobe. Through this transfer, our short-term memories become long-term memories. Motor activities such as dancing, swimming, swinging a baseball, etc. become more automatic as a result.

You can find the original article “5 Amazing Things Your Brain Does While You Sleep” over on Huffington Post.