Why Sleep Is Important for the Brain

Written by Joe Auer

The right amount of high-quality sleep is important for overall health, both physical and mental. From healthy skin to a more comprehensive memory, sleep can positively impact all types of bodily functions and organs. If the benefits of beauty sleep aren’t bringing you to bed more regularly, consider this information about sleep and how it’s good for the brain.


The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute notes that sleep is important to a variety of physical health factors and your ability to function well during daytime activities. Specifically, the NHLBI points out sleep’s role as the janitor of your brain.

For example, during REM sleep, which is believed to be the deepest phase of sleep, some neurotransmitters stop sending signals to the brain. One example of this is that during REM sleep, we don’t sneeze. That’s because the neurotransmitters that would normally send a signal to the brain about something irritating in the nasal passages are temporarily shut down.

Because the body operates on a sort of skeleton crew of functions during sleep — and especially during REM sleep — the brain has time to handle other functions. That includes formatting neurological pathways that let you organize mental information, retain memories and learn new things. According to the NHLBI, getting quality sleep helps people learn new skills and attain new knowledge, whether that’s memorizing historical dates to internalizing how to use a new tool.

Amazingly, the body also performs literal maintenance functions on the brain during sleep. While you sleep, cerebrospinal fluid is sent at a higher rate into the brain. One researcher referred to it like a dishwasher — the fluid washes away toxins and waste that accrue between the cells in the brain while you’re awake.


Sleep doesn’t just provide the brain time for clearing or creating neurological pathways. It’s also vital for the continued development of emotional control. One reason for this is that during sleep, parts of the brain communicate, including the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that drives emotions, and the prefrontal cortex helps you manage self-control. A study published by the National Institutes of Health notes that long-term lack of sleep can cause changes in how areas of the brain communicate with each other as well as changes to receptors in the brain. This can make it more difficult for you to manage your emotions when awake. The same study pointed to a correlation between lack of sleep and increased emotional outbursts among both men and women.


During REM sleep, the brain also catalogs your waking memories. That means it sorts through them and puts them into an appropriate chronological order so you’re more likely to remember them correctly later.

The brain doesn’t just concern itself with the order of memories, though. It also looks at the importance and value of the memories so it knows which experiences should be enhanced in your ability to recall them. For example, seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time as a family is likely something the brain would lift in value as it sorts your memories. An uneventful breakfast buffet at the hotel beforehand might be downgraded as a memory that isn’t as important.


According to the NHLBI, lack of sleep is a factor in a variety of waking-hour accidents and production issues. In fact, authorities estimate that as many as 100,000 car accidents occur annually in part because of sleep deficiency. People who don’t get enough sleep are also likely to take longer to perform tasks, make more errors and have slower reaction times, says the NHLBI.

And you don’t even need to lose a lot of sleep before these negative effects start to occur. The NHLBI says that missing out on one or two hours of sleep for a few nights in a row can provide the same impact as not sleeping for 24 to 48 hours.


It’s easy to see sleep’s value for your brain, so it’s important to take steps to seek quality sleep. Here are some tips for getting there.

  • Invest the time and money into finding a mattress that supports your entire body and allows you to get a good night’s rest.
  • Arrange your bedroom so it’s conducive to sleep. Ensure the room is dark enough and that the temperature is cool and comfortable. Although temperature is a preference you’ll have to play with, the National Sleep Foundation recommends starting with a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees F.
  • Develop consistent sleeping habits. Going to bed at the same time nightly and waking at the same time every day is one of the best things you can do for quality sleep. If you don’t currently have a consistent sleep schedule, try choosing times that work for you and allow enough sleep (seven to eight hours for most adults) and committing to them. Your body typically falls in line naturally within a week or two.
  • Set a pre-bedtime routine that’s supportive of sleep. Don’t eat or drink anything stimulating, such as caffeine or sugar, within two hours of bedtime. Choose an enjoyable but relaxing activity for the last 30 minutes of your day, such as meditating or reading. Because blue light from cell phones and other screens can interfere with rest, try to avoid them just before bed and don’t sleep with them on.

By taking the time to seek a better night’s rest, you increase your brain’s ability to do its job right. That can have positive effects for your waking hours and even your entire life.

About the Author

This guest post was written by Joe Auer. Joe is the Editor for Mattress Clarity and has been writing about sleep professionally for over four years. As the bed in box industry began to boom, Joe started Mattress Clarity as a platform to help consumers navigate the mattress industry and since then, he has personally tested over 100 mattresses.

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