Why is sleep the best brain health booster?

January 3, 2024

‘In a recent study researchers found that people who regularly sleep for less than 6 hours a night, were 30% more likely to develop dementia when they were older. Sleep plays a crucial part in revitalising the brain.” – Professor James Goodwin.

There’s no two ways about it. Sleep plays a vital role in our everyday being and cognitive functions. But did you know that when we sleep, our brains are actually surprisingly active? 

As soon as we fall into a deep slumber, both the body and brain undergo two essential processes – the clearing of metabolic waste and energy restoration. The glymphatic system, a waste clearance system in the brain, starts to remove the byproducts and toxins that accumulate throughout the day. Glycogen is then stored in the brain, replenishing the energy that our brains need for cognitive function. 

As the brain clears and replenishes our memory also begins to consolidate. When we sleep, all newly acquired information is solidified and integrated into existing knowledge helping us to learn and retain information. This is encouraged by a process called ‘synaptic plasticity’, which is where our sleep supports new neuron connections which can also strengthen or weaken over time. 

Sleep also plays a role in encouraging neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons. This normally occurs during the deep stages of sleep and is crucial for cognitive flexibility, learning and memory. The hippocampus, a region in the brain associated with learning and memory, is particularly sensitive to the effects of sleep on neurogenesis. It allows us to have a better focus, further maintaining optimal levels of alertness and sustained attention. 

When we are well-rested, our cognitive resources are better utilised so we can focus on tasks for longer periods of time without experiencing fatigue and a short attention span. But as much as we want to perform better in everyday life, we also want to feel happy. Sleep influences the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine levels which are regulated during sleep. These affect mood, motivation, and emotional well-being.

And so, as new neurons are created, neural pathways strengthened, energy stores are replenished and byproducts eliminated, we allow ourselves to have an overall better cognitive performance: improved attention span, concentration and problem-solving skills. It’s safe to say that sleep is a fundamental aspect of brain health, contributing to not only our brain health, but our overall well being. Prioritising good sleep hygiene (between 7-8 hours sleep a night for adults), is essential for promoting long-term cognitive health.

Find out more about Brain Health and it’s connection to sleep through our core pillar, available here –