Medical study reaffirms importance of sleep

 07 Feb 2017 - 10:58

Medical study reaffirms importance of sleep

QNA

Washington: New research reaffirms that sleep is essential for learning and memory function in the brain, based on findings with mice.

The study from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that a key purpose of sleep for mice is to recalibrate the brain neurons that help solidify lessons learned and use them the next day. 

"Our findings solidly advance the idea that the mouse and presumably the human brain can only store so much information before it needs to recalibrate," says Graham Diering, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins who led the study. "Without sleep and the recalibration that goes on during sleep, memories are in danger of being lost".

The researchers focused on a process known as "homeostatic scaling down" that has been well-studied in lab neurons but not before in living animals. This process helps prevent neurons in the brain from firing constantly and reaching their maximum load. When a neuron maxes out, it loses capacity to convey information, which stymies learning and memory. "Homeostatic scaling down" weakens the synapses that connect neurons but in a uniform way and by a small degree, so the relative strength of the synapses remains intact, and learning and memory formation can continue," Science Daily reported. 

The researchers confirmed that sleep is a necessity for this scale-down process that can't be substituted. "The bottom line is that sleep is not really downtime for the brain," Diering says. "It has important work to do then, and we in the developed world are shortchanging ourselves by skipping it". (QNA)