Use Sleep to Boost Your Cognitive Performance

25.04.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course The science of sleep: learn how to improve your sleep by Somni


Did you know? Every day, your brain uses roughly 25% of your body’s energy supply while only accounting for ~2% of our mass by weight.

Often considered to be in an inactive state, the sleeping brain is actually intensely neurologically active and undergoes significant changes throughout the course of a night. Today, we will discover the intricacies of our nightly brain activity and begin to understand how you can use sleep to improve your thinking, creativity, memory, and insights.


The Stages of Sleep

During the night, the brain’s electrical activity changes in significant ways during the different stages of sleep. Sleep consists of two main types of rest: rapid eye movement sleep (REM) or non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). Within NREM there are four sub-stages of sleep, which are classified based on levels of electrical brain activity. Each complete cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and every night, you complete a cycle 4-6 times (on average).


Creativity and Insights

During certain stages of sleep, especially during REM, particular sections of the brain show even more activity than they do during wakefulness. Additionally, during sleep, brain regions communicate in patterns not possible during wakefulness, allowing for new connections and creative insights to occur. Sleep allows for creativity and the restructuring of information in new ways. Famously, after dreaming of a snake seizing its own tail, Friedrich August Kekulé discovered the structure of benzene, one of the most important chemical structures of modern times.


Learning and Memory

Sleep helps with the brain plasticity needed for optimal learning and good memory retention. One of the mechanisms that may link sleep and memory in the brain is a form of brain plasticity called “neurogenesis.” Recent research has shown that the hippocampus does grow new neurons via the process of neurogenesis. These new neurons are important for learning and memory, and sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce neurogenesis and impair memory function.



Not only is the brain full of activity throughout a night of sleep, but it also needs to clear itself of all the by-products of a day of heavy thinking. It can only do this cleaning when asleep. Many neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, have been found to be connected to a lack of sleep. This is believed to be a result of the inability to clear the toxic proteins from the brain if sleep is impaired.


Rethinking Sleep for Your Brain

To begin getting the most out of your brain, you’ll have to rethink how you view the relationship between sleep and your brain. No longer is sleep time that is lost and wasted but rather a way to enhance your quality of life and time awake. During sleep, your brain is busy cleaning itself of neurotoxic wastes, consolidating and encoding new memories, learning new skills, making creative connections, and helping to regulate your emotions. Far from a passive state, your brain works hard for you while you sleep to prepare for the next day.


What You Can Do to Improve Your Sleep

1. Don’t view sleep as your enemy to productivity but rather one of the best things you can do to improve your cognitive abilities.

2. Think about how much sleep you need to actually be at your best mentally. Once you have that number, stick to it. Don’t settle for going through the day half awake.


Tomorrow, we’ll show you how to use sleep for better physical health and improved athletic performance!

Recommended reading

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders


Share with friends