Why Our Brains Need Sleep

Life is so much better after a good night’s sleep. Better mood, more energy, better concentration … the list goes on. The effects of sleep deprivation are all too familiar for those struggling with insomnia. But why do our brains need sleep? It’s only since becoming a hypnotherapist that I’ve fully understood just how important sleep is for our brains and what happens if we don’t get enough.

One of the facts that fascinates me about the brain and sleep is that whilst it may seem we’re switching off when we fall asleep, in reality the brain is far from inactive. When you sleep your brain cycles through two main types of electrical activity: rapid eye movement (REM) and slow-wave sleep. During REM sleep we often have vivid dreams and our brains show similar patterns of activity to when we are awake.

So what are our brains doing while we sleep? What’s going on during all that electrical activity?

Sleep serves many different functions. One of these is to help us remember experiences we had during the day and to consolidate memories. This explains why we become forgetful if we have insomnia. Sleep allows the brain to sift through memories, forgetting certain things so as to remember what’s important. The brain literally prunes away unwanted connections. This is thought to counterbalance the overall strengthening of connections that occurs during learning when we are awake. By pruning away excess connections, sleep effectively cleans the slate so we can learn again the next day.

Sleep is also needed to do a bit of brain housekeeping, cleansing the brain of toxins that accumulate during waking hours. The latest research findings suggest that by removing these toxins from the brain, sleep may stave off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Getting enough sleep is important for attention and learning during our waking hours. When we are sleep deprived the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other is disrupted, leading to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us. We can’t focus on large amounts of information or sustain our attention for long periods. Our reaction times are slowed, our problem-solving and decision-making abilities are impaired and we are less likely to be creative. When you haven’t had enough sleep your brain may force itself to shut down for a few seconds, you may become unconscious for a few seconds without knowing it. Sleep deprivation affects the brain just as much as alcohol.

There have been numerous studies carried out on sleep, showing that we need at least seven hours of sleep per night, if not more. Overall, the evidence suggests that a healthy sleep pattern is key to having a healthy and well-functioning brain.

As a hypnotherapist I see many people who have varying degrees of insomnia, from difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early in the morning to waking up multiple times in the night. I work with each client using Solution Focused techniques, helping them to cope better and ultimately improve their sleep patterns. To find out more about hypnotherapy and how it can help with insomnia please call 07514 931 096 or email me using the contact form.

References

The Conversation

Neuroscience News