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Sleep may help us forget, claim scientists

Posted on Tuesday, 7 February, 2017 | Comment icon 13 comments

What is the true purpose of sleep ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Mark Sebastian
The pruning of synaptic connections in the brain may be one of the primary reasons that we need sleep.
Few functions of the human body have generated as much debate over the years as sleep - an activity that we all do on a daily basis yet about which we still know surprisingly little about.

Some scientists argue that sleep provides the brain with an opportunity to dispose of cellular waste or that it helps the body and mind to recuperate enough to see us through the upcoming day.

In two recent papers however, researchers have put forward the notion that sleep might actually benefit us most by helping us to forget some of the things that we have learned the previous day.

The idea was originally proposed by biologists Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who suggested that our synapses grow so much throughout the day that our brain circuits become "noisy". When we sleep, they argued, the brain pares back some of these connections so that our neurons can send signals to one another quickly and efficiently.

Experiments have since offered up evidence to support this idea - in particular those in which neurons can be seen pruning their synapses ( albeit within the confines of a laboratory dish. )

Scientists have also discovered that electric waves released by the brain slow down during sleep - something that Dr. Tononi and Dr. Cirelli believe is caused by shrinking synapses.

Whether this phenomenon is actually the primary purpose of sleep however remains unclear.

"The work is great," said Markus H. Schmidt of the Ohio Sleep Medicine Institute. "But the question is, is this a function of sleep or is it the function ?"

Source: New York Times | Comments (13)

Tags: Sleep, Brain

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by Frank Merton on 3 February, 2017, 4:26
I would guess there is a high probability there are parts of our body that can't rejuvenate in a few minutes but take hours. Our heart, for example, can never stop to rest; instead it rests "in between" and no doubt gets even better rest when we are not moving during sleep. They say as you get older you need less sleep; I seem to need more.
Comment icon #5 Posted by aka CAT on 3 February, 2017, 4:29
I know your second statement to be true since, as anamnesiac, only sleeplet remember.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Frank Merton on 3 February, 2017, 4:29
Simplify your life. Put your bills on auto-pay, get some anti-smell cat litter, have a long talk with your wife about your stress. I don't know why you should be particularly worried about the safety of your family -- I went through a war with almost nightly bombing and managed.
Comment icon #7 Posted by papageorge1 on 3 February, 2017, 4:30
I can understand that but to me it just doesn't seem to be a sufficient answer to why sleep versus justsitting still makes such a fantastic difference. There just seems to melike something important has not yet been discovered by science on the importance of sleep.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Avatar Samantha Ai on 3 February, 2017, 7:33
Maybe one of thepurposes of sleep is to keep the body safe from the effects of sleep deprivation? Just look those up. Lots of harm comes from that.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Timonthy on 3 February, 2017, 7:47
In a pure 'memory' sense: To purgethe less important information, and to store the more important information. Problem is, it's purely subjective. Many people purge a great dealof whichthey should be remembering, and remember a great dealof which they should be purging. (And vice versaof course)
Comment icon #10 Posted by taniwha on 3 February, 2017, 8:44
The main purpose of sleep is survival. Without it the body and mind will quickly breakdown without the ability to recharge. This has been a well known fact since day one.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Eldorado on 3 February, 2017, 8:52
There ain't no forgetting.
Comment icon #12 Posted by cluey on 3 February, 2017, 15:17
All i know is that sleep deprivation can be a very serious genetic disorder.....and has been proven to cause death in some cases quicker than lack of food or water.....
Comment icon #13 Posted by paperdyer on 8 February, 2017, 20:31
Then he can work about whether or not his wife used all the money in the account before the back sent the payments.

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