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Scientists Prove That Sleep Shrinks the Brain and It's Actually Beneficial

Feb 17, 2017 01:03 PM EST

Sleep is a mysterious aspect of human lives. A team of scientists has discovered that the brain shrinks during sleep, but it does no harm.

The scientists explained that sleep offers time for the brain's synapses, which are responsible for neuron connection and formation of thoughts, to rest. However, the process will also shrink them by nearly 20 percent. This process, called synaptic homeostasis, provides synapses time to rest and prepare for the next day.

Interestingly, this was proven to help them grow stronger and prepare to receive new input. According to Scientific American, without this "shrinking" process, synapses will be burnt out, akin to an over-used electrical outlet. 

This finding was made possible courtesy of Chiara Cirelli of the University of Winsconsin-Madison Center for Sleep and Consciousness. She said this rejuvenation, or "synaptic renormalization," works best when people sleep.

This hypothesis was introduced way back in 2003, however it was only now that they got visual evidence of the phenomenon after observing mice. The animals' synapses also shrink while they are asleep, and triggering them before having proper rest resulted to profound effects.

The researchers suggested that synapses get in the sideline during sleep. While asleep, the body takes advantage by decreasing brain activity; thus, the synaptic renormalization. Usinh a new form of electron microscopes to observe mice, they realized that a few hours of sleep led to the aforementioned shrinking.

Live Science says that the study supports the notion that the act of sleep is necessary for the consolidation of memories and learning. This was already explored by a lot of philosophers, such as Aristotle who said that sleep may be restorative as people feel refreshed after the experience.

This concept proved true time and time again, when scientists started to dissect what exactly is going on while people are sleeping. They have now identified genes that are associated to such restoration, and even metabolic paths that open during sleep. 

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