I was speaking to someone last night. And they brought this to my attention. I read up on it. This is what I learned. I thought I would share it will you.
There’s a old saying in neuroscience: “neurons that fire together wire together.”
This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain. The stronger the circuit becomes. This is why people say “practice makes perfect.” The more you practice piano or speaking a language, or juggling, the stronger those circuits will get.
Scientists have knows this for years. However now days researchers have learned another part of the truth. In order to learn something, even more important than practicing is the ability to unlearn or break down the old neural conn. This is called “synaptic pruning.”
Let’s 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, serotonin, 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, and raking dead leaves. You brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?
Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein called C1q (as well as others).. When the microglial cells detect that Mark, they bond to the protein and prune or destroy the synapse.
This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new stronger connections so you can learn more.
This Is Why Sleep Matters
Your brain cleans itself out when you sleep.
Have you ever felt like your brain in full, like when you learn something new, or start a new job or hobby? Like you’ve gotten to much information all at once. Well, it may just be.
When we learn lots of new things, your brain builds connections, but they’re ineffective ad hoc connections. Your brain needs to prune a lot of those connections away and build more streamlined efficient pathways. It does this when we sleep.
When we scour brain cells shrink by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in and take away waste. That’s how your they prune the synapses.
Have you ever woken up from a good night’s sleep and been able to think clearly and quickly? That’s why. It’s like running fragmentation on your computer.
This is the same reason naps are so beneficial to your cognitive abilities. A 10 or 20 minute nap gives your microglial gardeners the chance to come in and clear away some unused connections, and leave space to grow new ones.
Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through a dense jungle with a machete. It’s overgrown, slow going, and exhausting.
Thinking on a week-rested brain is like wandering happily through a park; the paths are clear and connect to one another at district spots, the trees are in place, and you can see far ahead of you. It’s invigorating.
This Is How You Can Control What Gets Deleted From Your Brain.
It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked by recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get water and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.