‘Sleeping on it’ actually works, say scientists

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Boffins have uncovered another secret of the brain - sleeping helps us make decisions.

Brain activity during sleep sorts through the huge number of experiences we encounter daily, and saves only the most important as memories.

‘Sleeping on it’ actually helps humans decide what’s important, according to new research undertaken at the University of Bristol, who also reckon bad nights of sleep impair mental function.

This discovery, made by researchers from Bristol’s Centre for Synaptic Plasticity, provide further evidence for the benefits of a good night’s sleep, because it shows that pieces of brain activity that occur during the day are replayed at fast-forward speed during sleep.

The key new finding is that sleep replay strengthens the microscopic connections between nerve cells that are active - a process deemed critical for making new memories.

Published in journal Cell Reports, the study states that by selecting which daytime activity patterns are replayed, sleep can sort and retain important information.

Lead researcher Dr Jack Mellor, from the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, said: “These findings are about the fundamental processes that occur in the brain during the consolidation of memory during sleep.

“It also seems that the successful replay of brain activity during sleep is dependent on the emotional state of the person when they are learning.

“This has major implications for how we teach and enables people to learn effectively.”