Your Brain Is Getting Rid Of Old Memories While You Sleep

New research suggests that the purpose of sleep may to be to help your brain make room for new information.

Sleeping tonight may help you forget some of what you’ve learned today so you can take in more information tomorrow, according to two new papers published last week in the journal Science.

The researchers focused on synapses, the neural connections brains form during learning and where memories are stored. They theorized that sleep may help prune some of those connections, essentially making room so we can store and form new memories more effectively.

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Both studies were done on mice. One found that synapses were 18% smaller in sleeping mice compared to mice who were awake, which, the researchers say, supports the idea that synapses are pruned during rest.

The other study explored the same hypothesis, but found that a specific protein, called Homer1A, appeared to trigger the pruning process. Mice who were genetically engineered so they couldn’t make Homer1A proteins performed worse on a memory test than mice who had the protein and could clear out synapses during sleep.

There’s an important point for anyone who takes sleeping aids, though. Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the authors of the first study told the New York Times that these supplements may interfere with the brain’s synapse-clearing process and that by taking them, “you may actually work against yourself.”

Read more on NYT.