I do my best thinking when I sleep … another scientific rationale.

 By default, your brain “defragments” when you sleep.


In a prior post, we reported some scientific evidence that most people really do think when they sleep.

For details, see: I do my best thinking when I’m sleeping … say, what?

Let’s take the science a step further…


First, an analogy…

Have you ever defragmented your computer’s hard drive?

Just in case your answer is “no” – or, you’ve never heard of defragmentation – here’s a short course:

When you save a file on your computer (think: Word, Powerpoint, Excel), the file isn’t stored in one piece.

Rather, it’s automatically broken into smaller pieces … and each piece is stashed in the first place that the computer finds an open space on the hard drive.

Since the file is stored in scattered pieces, the computer has to reassemble it when you subsequently re-open the file.

That takes time … and slows the process.

There’s a process called “defragmentation” that sorts through a computer’s hard drive, eliminates “dead links” and reassembles “live” files into contiguous pieces … making the save & open processes more efficient.

Well, it turns out that your brain comes with a process analogous to defragmentation … it’s called “synaptic pruning” … and it happens automatically when you sleep.

Here’s how it works …


According to a great article in Fast Company

Here’s how to think about “synaptic pruning”:

Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons.

These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain – they act to speed up signals between certain neurons.

But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves.

Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.”

They prune your synaptic connections (by identifying and snipping those that haven’t been used much recently).

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more (and remember faster).


What happens when you sleep?

When you sleep – even if it’s just a nap — your brain cleans itself out.

Your microglial gardeners activate, clearing cells of inactive content and pruning the synapses.

That’s why you’re able to think clearly and quickly when you wake up

All the pruning that took place when you slept gave you more room to absorb and synthesize new information.

In other words, to collect more dots … and to connect them more efficiently.


What gets pruned?

You have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep.

It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling.

The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated.

So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

When awake, focus your brain on important and pleasant matters … then your brain will automatically prune away those that are unimportant or unpleasant.

Give it a try … there’s no downside.



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