Since early childhood, we’ve been told that all kinds of bad
things will happen if we don’t get enough sleep. Scientists
have long suspected that sleep (or lack thereof) influence
learning and memory,
but without substantial research to support the specific mechanisms
behind such a connection.
In a study designed to test the hypothesis that brain pathways
develop and strengthen during certain stages of sleep, researchers
recorded the ability of cat brains to adapt/remodel when forced
to see out of only one eye. Researchers noted twice the amount
of brain changes in cats that slept for six hours after being
deprived of light to one eye, compared with those kept awake
in a dark room for the same time period. Additionally, cats
allowed to sleep (both eyes closed) for the six hours experienced
more brain changes than those kept awake and exposed to light.
What’s this all mean? According to the authors of this study,
their findings emphasize the importance of adequate sleep.
They suggest that sleep, particularly in early life, may play
a crucial role in brain development.
M, Issa N, Stryker M. Sleep enhances plasticity in developing
visual cortex. Neuron 2001: Vol. 30, No. 4, pp275-87.