There are billions of brain cells (neurons) in your brain forming a highly complicated neural network. This very moment millions of brain cells in your brain are sending messages to one another by causing electrical firings and producing thoughts, emotions and feelings.
The number of neurons in our brain increases from childhood until we reach adolescence. By that time our brain is ready to decide on the final set of brain cells it will keep throughout our life as an adult. Your brain will leave more room for expansion of the type of cells you use the most. These frequently used neurons will grow as time goes by forming new branches and expanding the neural network. The brain cells you don’t use will be pruned.
But the question is how our brain selects what neurons to keep?
Scientists claim that our brain cells have the ability to self-destruct. How often do you use a specific type of brain cells, is determined by the blood flow in our brain. Different areas of the brain, different blood flow. If the blood flow is high that means those areas of the brain are frequently used. Now, the brain has this chief-enzyme called Calpain. Calpain is an enzyme which helps determine which cells should self-destruct. Calpain can be spotted in those low-traffic areas with little blood flow.
Other types of enzymes and proteins are produced in the high traffic areas of our brain where blood flow is increased. These proteins form branches and connections between well/frequently used brain cells. Its the proteins’ responsibility to further develop and protect the neural network by creating new connections/branches between brain cells.
Brain Activity Increases During Sleep
It is believed that the majority of work done by neurons to expand the neural network takes place while we sleep. This explains why sleep is so important for us humans. Our physical and mental performance is strongly affected by the amount of sleep we get. Especially during periods when we learn new things and expect from our brain to absorb and store new information. In order for our brain to form new neural branches storing the new information we need to sleep and give our brain time to work.
I bet you’ve heard the phrase “..If you want to learn something new then sleep on it..”
It’s true. When we try hard to learn something new, we also need significant amount of sleep in order to own the information and store it in a long-term, complex network of new neural branches.