The average human spends one-third of their life sleeping, but rumor has it that things were a little bit different for Leonardo da Vinci: da Vinci would only take 1-hour naps every 4 hours. Looking at one of the most influential geniuses of mankind, one might think that the long rest might actually be unnecessary. Maybe we all have the potential to be like da Vinci, but we spend too much time sleeping? While da Vinci’s story remains invalidated, researchers have proved that sleep fosters brain growth and helps us be more functional while we are awake. How so?
Let us start with that day when you went to sleep after studying for a math exam. You probably remember that one question which bothered you for hours because you just could not solve it. According to a study from the journal Current Biology, sleep is the only answer to your unsolvable question. It turns out that even though sleeping might be associated with a passive state of being — some might even see it as a derivative of “fainting,” our brain does not yield to passivity. On the contrary, it continues processing information. That is why when you go to sleep after dealing with a complex problem, your brain gets ready to help you solve the problem once you wake up.
To clarify, researchers do not believe that the brain does not solve a question out of the blue, but if the necessary information is there, your brain will deal with the rest of it. Researchers from a Swiss university took this even further and wanted to see if the brain could process languages during sleep. The studies concluded that if you are exposed to a language during your non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, you will be better at that language if you had already been exposed to it while you were awake.
Sleep’s wonders are not only limited to brain’s interactions with external stimuli. Brain also uses sleep as a vessel to deal with what it has acquired internally. Essentially, brain sorts what you learn during the day while sleeping, and necessary memories become more prevalent. With the help of sleep, your acquisition is strengthened, which means a good night’s sleep right after you have obtained new information can change the result of your performance.
Researchers conducted a group study with two groups: people exposed to a group of related (peanut butter-jelly) and unrelated (TV-garden) phrasal pairings at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. The 9 p.m. group went to sleep right after the exposure, whereas the 9 a.m. group did not. They found out that the 9 p.m. group was able to recall the same amount of related phrases as the 9 a.m. group. Yet, their retention was better than the 9 a.m. group when it came to the unrelated phrases. Their brains were able to build new connection even while sleeping, which shows us that pulling all-nighters might actually be a really bad idea.
In addition to its ingenious activities, brain uses the sleeping time as a way to do some spring-cleaning. According to a recent study, the brain clears out the toxins during sleep by simply opening up space between its cells. This rejuvenation includes many other things, like help release less cortisol: the stress hormone. Less stress means more collagen, which is the key to smooth and healthy skin. Also one should not forget that lack of sleep creates an increase in hunger and appetite. You would not want to gain weight because of postponing your rest to binge-watch your favorite TV show. We besides should add that while sleep fosters daily activities, it also helps prevent looming diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Want to make the right decisions? Want to make the best out of your life? Then maybe it is time to invest more in sleep. Maybe da Vinci did not, but it still does not mean that he could not have achieved more with a little bit more of it.