This post initially appeared on Science Blogs
And speaking of milestones, the Harvard Science in the News Flash - a student written and student edited writing series just posted their 100th article: Sleep clears the mind: How sleep prepares the brain for new learning Despite the fact that sleep is essential to our health, its function and what makes it necessary have remained mysterious. Over the years, scientists have accumulated data showing that sleep, or the lack thereof, affects the brain. Most of this work focused on the idea that sleep is important for consolidating newly formed memories. However, evidence is now building that sleep also makes room for the formation of new memories, acting as a sort of "spring cleaning" for the brain. The idea that sleep may help balance brain resources and space is known as the homeostatic theory of sleep. While you are awake, your brain is constantly exposed to new information coming in from your senses. This information allows you to form new memories and learn about the world around you. Interacting with the environment also causes changes in your brain - its cells branch and grow, and new connections are formed between them. These changes require energy as well as physical space, both of which are limited.
The website is a bit ugly (I've been assured that there are folks working on that), and there's a link on the left to my first (now defunct) attempt at science blogging (lesson learned: never try to blog by committee, even the name is terrible). But the Flash articles are usually well written, always well researched and provide a great avenue for students interested in science writing to get a crack at it (while getting some expert feedback from a talented list of student editors). Give it a read, and leave some feedback if you're willing.
For more on the neuroscience of sleep, check out the always fabulous Radiolab.