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See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 2

New Hypothesis Explains Why We Sleep

During sleep, the brain weakens the connections among nerve cells, apparently conserving energy and, paradoxically, aiding memory

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Every night, while we lie asleep, blind, dumb and almost paralyzed, our brains are hard at work. Neurons in the sleeping brain fire nearly as often as they do in a waking state, and they consume almost as much energy. What is the point of this unceasing activity at a time when we are supposedly resting? Why does the conscious mind disconnect so completely from the external environment while the brain keeps nattering on?

The brain's activity during rest likely serves some essential function. The evidence for this importance starts with sleep's ubiquity. All animals apparently sleep even though being unconscious and unresponsive greatly raises the risk of becoming another creature's lunch. Birds do it, bees do it, iguanas and cockroaches do it, even fruit flies do it, as we and others demonstrated more than a decade ago.

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