I recently read an article in the Huffington Post that shared some of the amazing things our brain does while we sleep. I realized that it was almost identical to what happens when we are in a hypnotic trance.
We all know that sleeping is as critical to our health and well-being as eating. Did you know though that we spend a third of our lives sleeping!
The reasons why we need sleep haven’t always been very clear… We know that sleep makes us feel more energized, focused and improves our mood, but what’s really happening in the brain and body when we’re at rest or in a deep hypnotic trance?
When we’re sleeping/in trance, the brain is anything but inactive. In fact, during sleep/trance, neurons in the brain fire nearly as much as they do during waking hours — so it should come as no surprise that what happens during hypnosis and our resting hours is extremely important to a number of brain and cognitive functions.
Here are five amazing things your brain does while you’re asleep or in hypnotic trance:
The brain can process information and prepare for actions during sleep, effectively making decisions while unconscious, new research has found.
A recent study published in the journal Current Biology found that the brain processes complex stimuli during sleep/trance state, and uses this information to make decisions while awake. The researchers asked participants to categorize spoken words that were separated into different categories — words referring to animals or objects; and real words vs. fake words — and asked to indicate the category of the word they heard by pressing right or left buttons.
When the task become automatic, the subjects were asked to continue but also told that they could fall asleep (they were lying in a dark room). When the subjects were asleep, the researchers began introducing new words from the same categories. Brain monitoring devices showed that even when the subjects were sleeping, their brains continued to prepare the motor function to create right and left responses based on the meaning of the words they heard.
When the participants woke up, however, they had no recollection of the words they heard.
“Not only did they process complex information while being completely asleep, but they did it unconsciously,” researchers Thomas Andrillon and Sid Kouider write in the Washington Post. “Our work sheds new light about the brain’s ability to process information while asleep but also while being unconscious.”
Creates and consolidates memories.
While you’re asleep/trance state, the brain is busy forming new memories, consolidating older ones, and linking more recent with earlier memories, during both REM and non-REM sleep. Lack of rest could have a significant affect the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory creation and consolidation.
For this reason, sleep/hypnosis plays a very important role in learning — it helps us to cement the new information we’re taking in for better later recall.
“We’ve learned that sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for initial formation of memories,” Dr. Matthew Walker, a University of California, Berkeley sleep researcher, “And then, sleep after learning is essential to help save and cement that new information into the architecture of the brain, meaning that you’re less likely to forget it.”
Think twice before pulling an all-nighter to study for your next exam: If you don’t sleep, your ability to learn new information could drop by up to 40 percent, Walker estimates.
Makes creative connections.
Sleep/trance state can be a powerful creativity-booster, as the mind in an unconscious resting state can make surprising new connections that it perhaps wouldn’t have made in a waking state.
A 2007 University of California at Berkeley study found that sleep/trance state can foster “remote associates,” or unusual connections, in the brain — which could lead to a major “a-ha” moment upon waking. Upon waking from sleep, people are 33 percent more likely to make connections between seemingly distantly related ideas.
Clears out toxins.
A series of 2013 studies found that an important function of sleep may be to give the brain a chance to do a little housekeeping.
Researchers at the University of Rochester found that during sleep, the brains of mice clear out damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration. The space between brain cells actually increased while the mice were unconscious, allowing the brain to flush out the toxic molecules that built up during waking hours.
“We need sleep,” Dr. Nedergaard, the study’s lead researcher, “It cleans up the brain.”
If we’re not getting enough sleep, our brains don’t have adequate time to clear out toxins, which could potentially have the effect of accelerating neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Learns and remembers how to perform physical tasks.
The brain stores information into long-term memory through something known as sleep spindles, short bursts of brain waves at strong frequencies that occur during REM sleep.
This process can be particularly helpful for storing information related to motor tasks, like driving, swinging a tennis racquet or practicing a new dance move, so that these tasks become automatic. What happens during REM sleep/trance state is that the brain transfers short-term memories stored in the motor cortex to the temporal lobe, where they become long-term memories.
“Practice during sleep/trance state is essential for later performance,” James B. Maas, a sleep scientist at Cornell University, “If you want to improve your golf game, sleep longer or do hypnosis.”