No, the brain is most active when we are asleep.
The Proposal for a National Sleep Health Agenda report, released by Wake Up Australia, revealed that “almost 90% of adults suffer from a sleep disorder at some time or times in their lives,” while at least 30% of those cases were classified as severe.
Many health experts have used their anecdotal experiences with patients, as well as evidence-based research findings, to make a case for sleep disorders and associated effects, such as lost productivity, informal care costs, motor vehicle accidents, and workplace injuries to be declared a national health crisis.
The Australian government spends more than $5 billion a year on sleep disorders and a further $31.4 billion a year on the quality of life measures to mitigate the material consequences of such disorders for society.
However, despite the attention and prevalence of sleep disorders and associated problems, there exists a great deal of misleading and factually incorrect information about these critical issues. One of the most pervasive myths is that our brains shut down while we sleep. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The brain is most active when we are asleep. It is the body that takes a break, while the brain directs and coordinates various physiological processes which repair and protect the body. However, despite remaining active, the brain does take breaks during sleep to recharge, typically oscillating between a few stages of sleep, such as rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.
Here are just some of the activities our brains take up while we’re fast asleep:
First of all, it helps you relax, even when you’re experiencing vivid dreams. The reason why most people don’t physically react to dreams is that our brain stems are always sending signals to our muscles that place them in a temporary state of paralysis.
Meanwhile, the thalamus section of the brain is continually sending even the slightest sensory inputs to the cerebral cortex for interpretation. During the NREM phase of sleep, this function only temporarily shuts down—which is why specific sensory data are no longer picked up in that period. However, during REM sleep this faculty is switched on again, and that is when we begin to dream.
A function that does indeed resemble that of a computer is the brain’s ability to sort and move important memories – like new skills or information – to regions of the brain where they can be stored for more extended periods.
An increased amount of cerebrospinal fluid is created and pumped into the brain while we are asleep to protect us from illnesses such as Alzheimer’s Disease. The fluid collects most of the harmful toxins that have accumulated in the brain during the day, thereby eliminating substances that can lead to debilitating diseases of the brain.
Even though the brain remains active when you’re asleep, it takes time for it to complete the various tasks that keep you healthy. The brain thrives on a consistent sleep schedule, so aim for the recommended seven to eight hours each night.
Moreover, there is no way to catch up lost sleep, not even with a nap or two during the day.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no way to “teach” one’s body to function on less sleep. The science says that overall levels of fatigue will continue to get worse and people become sleepier over time. This is, naturally, extremely dangerous to a person’s health.
For many, there’s nothing better than squeezing in a power nap during the day. However, research shows that if implemented incorrectly, daytime snoozing can confuse sleep cycles and reduce the quality of night-time rest.
If someone must have a siesta, do so for no more than 20 minutes as close to lunchtime as possible.