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Sleep makes room for memories

Study shows sleep reduces harmful buildup of too many connections in the brain

WASHINGTON — Sleep not only refreshes the body, it may also push the reset button on the brain, helping the brain stay flexible and ready to learn, new research shows.

Whether it is slow-wave sleep or rapid eye movement (REM), sleep changes the biochemistry of the brain, and the change is necessary to continue learning new things, suggests research presented November 18 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Hundreds of genes behave differently when an animal is asleep rather than awake, says Chiara Cirelli of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Cirelli and her colleagues are trying to settle a long-standing debate about why sleep is necessary. One theory is that sleep helps solidify memories by replaying information learned during the day. Another idea holds that sleep is for energy restoration.

Cirelli and other researchers presented evidence at the neuroscience meeting suggesting that sleep may perform both functions.

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