Why We Sleep
Why We Sleep?
Sleep may really be–A series of repeated cycles of pruning and strengthening of neural connections that enables you to learn new tricks without forgetting old ones. Of course, none of that explains why you have to be unconscious for all the pruning and strengthening to occur. Maybe it’s just easier to be asleep than awake while the work is going on. “When you fall asleep, it’s like you’re leaving your house and the workmen come in to renovate,” suggests Terry Sejnowski, a computational neurobiologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “You don’t want to live in the house while the construction’s going on because it’s a mess.”
It all sounds plausible enough, but that doesn’t mean everyone is convinced. “It may not sound exciting, but I think sleep is essentially for rest,” says Robert Vertes, a neuroscientist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Vertes thinks most sleep scientists are overinterpreting their data because they find it so hard to believe that our brains just need to shut down for eight hours or so every night. As for what’s being done during that time, the short answer, he says, is “We don’t know.”
Perhaps the brain just needs to restore itself. “We’ve all had the experience of going to bed with a problem, getting a good night’s sleep and waking up in the morning, and there’s a solution,” says Dr. Gregory Belenky, who recently retired as head of sleep research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., and is now at Washington State University at Spokane. But instead of thinking that extra information processing is going on during sleep, he says it makes as much sense to suggest that depleted circuits are just being rejuvenated.
The brain, like the rest of the body, runs on glucose, Belenky explains. Using computerized scanners that provide images in real time, he and his colleagues have shown that the brain’s ability to use glucose drops off dramatically after being awake 24 hours, indicating a decrease in brain activity–despite the fact that there’s still plenty of glucose available. The biggest drops occur in exactly those areas of the cortex that anticipate and integrate emotion and reason. After 24 hours, however, the drop-off stabilizes. “But performance doesn’t level off,” Belenky notes. “It continues to tank.” Why? No one knows.
In addition to refueling the brain, sleep seems to detoxify it. Animals with a high metabolic rate, like field mice and bats, use a lot of calories and generate a lot of destructive molecules called free radicals. “The brain is particularly susceptible to this because neurons, by and large, don’t regenerate,” says Jerome Siegel, a neuroscientist at UCLA and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Los Angeles. Maybe sleep provides necessary downtime so that the brain can deal with all those free radicals.
One of the ultimate Zen like experiences is waking-up from a great slumber refreshed and energized. Your mind and body are harmoniously one, both alert and focused. Having a refreshed mind and body are two keys to a natural and Zen lifestyle. Waking up in the morning should not be a loud and abrupt awakening, but rather it should be a peaceful positive experience. The right natural alarm clock can transition your deep and tranquil sleep into a serene start to consciousness. Imagine a long-resonating Tibetan bell-like chime waking you up to a beautiful morning experience.
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adapted from Time.com by Christine Gorman
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