The brain is the most important organ in the body and without it life would not exist. In a metaphorical sense, the brain can be thought of as a master computer. Functions of the brain include physical behavior, emotion, learning capability and memory. Since the beginning of scientific exploration, the brain has been a significant area of interest and its complexity still puzzles scientists today. New research methods and advances in technology have allowed humans to understand more about the brain within the past 10 years than in the preceding centuries (Brain Basics, 2013.) Research on the role of sleep in brain functionality shows surprising promise. The amount and quality of sleep an individual receives effects learning ability and the risk of developing brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Sleep is defined as a period of reduced activity in which an individual’s response to his/her environment is decreased (Healthy Sleep, n.d.) The body undergoes fluctuations in brain wave activity, breathing, heart rate and other functions. These changes occur during two main stages of sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the stage in which dreaming typically occurs and absorption of newly learned information takes place. The deep restorative sleep known as slow-wave sleep consolidates memories (Healthy Sleep, n.d.) Recent studies have found that some individuals may not experience both stages of sleep. This can contribute to problems in learning, memory and brain restoration.
A study at the University of Rochester Medical Center investigated sleep’s importance in ridding the brain of cellular waste. The study concludes that during sleep, human brain cells shrink up to 60% smaller than their normal size. While this may seem troubling to some individuals, this trait indicates healthy brain function. Most parts of the body experience relaxation and restoration during sleep. In contrast, the brain continues to use energy in order to clean waste from the neurons. This process gives the brain a fresh start upon waking. Sleep also helps to remove toxins and harmful proteins that generate brain dysfunction and disease (Luscombe, 2013.) The specific role of sleep in learning and memory remains undetermined; however, scientific research confirms that the quality and quantity of sleep an individual receives effects these areas. In fact, lack of sleep causes short-term mental problems in individuals, as well as negative effects such as disease in the future.
Lack of focus and attention, the most apparent result of sleep deprivation, causes people to learn much less efficiently. Stress levels and impaired judgment can also be increased by sleeplessness. Neurons in the brain become overworked and do not perform tasks—like interpreting new information or accessing memories—as efficiently as a well-rested brain. Sleep deprivation studies link lack of sleep and even oversleep to increased risk of developing harmful diseases, such as...