How Sleep Benefits a Leader’s Brain

Sleep. Ahhhhh. Wonderful, restful, sleep. Something we all crave and often don’t get enough of. For centuries scientists have pondered what sleep does for us, except to cure sleepiness and make us feel better. But in recent years neuroscientists have discovered significant benefits that sleep brings, especially to our brains. We leaders need our brains to function at their peak and sleep can help them do that. I highlight below how sleep benefits a leader’s brain with these three metaphors: a garbage truck, a wet painting, and a librarian.

When we sleep (almost a third of our lives) our brains don’t actually shut off. In fact, they remain quite active. The neurons fire almost as often as in our waking hours.

First, when we sleep the fluid that circulates in our brain and our spinal cord acts like a garbage truck, hauling away toxins that have collected between our brain cells. When we sleep, our brain performs this housekeeping task. During the day, damaging molecules associated with normal neuronal degeneration collect in the spaces between the cells, called synapses. And when we sleep, the spaces open up a bit, thus allowing the fluid to ‘take the trash out.’

Second, our memories get strengthened. The process is called consolidation when our brain sends memories lying in our shorter term memory banks into the rest of the brain to solidify them into long term memories. It’s like a painting that that an artist paints. She will paint the picture, but for it to become permanent, she must allow time for the paint to harden. Likewise, sleep helps the brain ‘harden’ our memories.

Third, sleep acts like a librarian who re-shelves books from a disheveled library return cart found in every library. She makes order out of chaos when she puts them back on the shelves in their proper order. Sleep acts in the same way. It takes the chaotic, disconnected thoughts we’ve experienced during the day and makes order out of them, even helping form associations with various unrelated thoughts which enhances creativity.

So, sleep offers many benefits. Get some extra zzz’s tonight. Your brain will be glad you did.

And as King David wrote…

At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep…. (Ps 4.8, The Message)

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