Good sleep promotes communication between your neurons (by inducing formation of new synapses).

A good night sleep is essential for refreshing oneself after a hectic day. It’s now known to us that sleep is essential not only for healthy body, but also for healthy mind. The role of sleep in the consolidation of memory has already been established. But the cellular and molecular processes behind this sleep induced memory consolidation are not yet known.

Researches have shown conflicting views regarding the role of sleep in synaptic plasticity. Some research supports the idea of synaptic down-scaling, whereas other supports the idea of synaptic up scaling during sleep.

A study conducted by Yang et al at New York University, School of Medicine, showed that sleep promotes formation of post-synaptic dendritic spines on a subset of branches of individual layer V pyramidal neurons in the mortor cortex of mice.

The study can be divided into two parts. In 1st part, they assessed spine formation following training. For this, they used two groups of mice. The experimental group consisting of mice that were given motor training for 2 days and the control group consisting of untrained mice. Rotarod motor training was given to the experimental group. The results were analyzed based on  time frame of experiment. Firstly, within 6 hours of motor training and then within 24 hours and after 24 hours of motor training. In 2nd part, they gave rotarod training to mice and divided the mice into two categories: non-sleep deprived and sleep deprived mice.  Then, they assessed the formation of new dendritic spines in sleep deprived vs non sleep deprived mice.

The results showed significantly higher formation of dendritic spines in trained mice in first 6 hours of training as compared to untrained controls. This formation of dendritic spines in trained mice was continuous in the 1st day. The spine formation remained confined to about 30% of dendrities after 24 hours of motor learning.  Likewise, there was significant reduction in dendritic spines in  sleep deprived mice as compared to non-sleep deprived mice. The reduction in the dendritic spines after sleep deprivation cannot be compensated either by motor training or by sleeping again.

Sleep consist of two phases: Rapid eye movement(REM) phase and NREM(non rapid eye movement) phase. Sleep deprivation in  REM phase did not disrupt the  formation of dendritic spines. Its in the NREM phase of sleep that dendritic spines are formed. Also, the study showed via calcium imaging that it’s the same neurons that are activated during neuronal activation at wakefulness and NREM phase of sleep. This neuronal reactivation during NREM phase is critical in the formation of new dendritic spines.

Concluding the results, rotarod training is important for the formation of new synapses as shown by increase in dendritic spines in trained mice as compared to untrained controls in the 1st part of the experiment. However, there was significant reduction of dendritic spines in sleep deprived mice undergoing motor training  suggesting that sleep is necessary for  formation of new synapses after learning. Formation of new synapses after learning occurs during NREM phase of sleep and neuronal reactivation is responsible for it.

Reference:

Guang Yang et al, Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning, Science 344,1173 (2014); DOI: 10.1126/science.1249098

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Playing chess, a way of achieving healthier brain

Chess is widely considered as an intellectual game. It requires a lot of visuospatial capability and calculation. Some researchers have even found chess players to be more intelligent than the other, while other have rejected this hypothesis. The purpose of writing this blog is not to argue about this point. What i am trying to tell is chess definitely helps in making your brain healthy. Playing this game during old age prevents the age related cognitive decline and dementia.

File:Chess board opening staunton.jpg

What the research tells?

Researchers at Universidad de Laguna, Spain compared the students playing chess and those playing soccer or basketball. Their results showed that students playing chess have improved cognitive and problem solving capacity than the counterparts playing soccer or basketball. The findings of this research correlates well with the results of  functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI). Researchers at University of Minnesota, USA reported  bilateral activation of frontal, parietal and occipital areas in fMRI  while playing chess. Its the frontal area of our brain that is involved in problem solving and intelligence.

While there are research favoring the importance of chess in brain development, there are some which denies this idea. By using Tower of London test( A psychological test for executive functioning), German researchers dismissed the idea that chess player has superior planning performance as compared to non chess players. Though they thefind planning performance to be superior in the chess players, there was no difference in the intelligence between the chess players and the non chess players.
So the research divides the opinion regarding the superior planning performance and intelligence in chess player. Further research need to be done before we become sure about the effect of playing chess in brain. But what we should not forget is chess is a brain stimulating game and it has been proved by the brain imaging that it helps in the activation of the brain areas.

What are the benefits of playing chess? 

 Psychological and intelligence test conducted on chess  players dismiss the idea of chess players being intelligent or being more efficient planner or thinker than those who don’t play chess. But there are other studies which tend to differ. Here are some benefits of playing chess as mentioned in the website  http://www.chessvibes.com/reports/10-big-brain-benefits-of-playing-chess: 

  • Increases the IQ
  • Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increases creativity and problem solving skills
  • Improves memory,reading skills and concentration
  • Promotes the growth of dendrites in the brain

For more information about the benefits, visit the webpage by clicking the above link.

How often do you need to play chess?

There are no clear studies indicating the frequency and time one need to spend . Playing chess is just like doing meditation or your daily routine training like jogging,swimming or cycling. The more you play, the more your chance of reaping the benefits. Like the exercise training or meditation, its never late to start learning chess

Reference and related articles:

  1. Atherton MZhuang JBart WMHu XHe S, A functional MRI study of high-level cognition. I. The game of chess. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2003 Mar;16(1):26-31

  2. Aciego RGarcía LBetancort M, The benefits of chess for the intellectual and social-emotional enrichment in schoolchildren. Span J Psychol. 2012 Jul;15(2):551-9
  3. Unterrainer JMKaller CPLeonhart RRahm B., Planning abilities and chess: a comparison of chess and non-chess players on the Tower of London taskBr J Psychol. 2006 Aug;97(Pt 3):299-311
  4. Unterrainer JMKaller CPLeonhart RRahm B.Revising superior planning performance in chess players: the impact of time restriction and motivation aspects. Am J Psychol. 2011 Summer;124(2):213-25
  5. Frontal Lobe Function in Chess Players.  http://acta.tums.ac.ir/files/journals/1/articles/4501/public/4501-4858-1-PB.p
  6. Ten big brain benefits of playing chess.                http://www.chessvibes.com/reports/10-big-brain-benefits-of-playing-chess

Sleep for better memory

Figure: fromWikipedia

A good sleep is needed for good life. And this is true for the brain as well. Sleep has a lot of things to do with brain especially memory.

Sleep has two phases: NREM (Non rapid eye movement) phase and REM (Rapid eye movement or deep sleep). Its during REP phase short term memory(memory lasting second to hours) is consolidated and converted into long term memory( Last for a very long time with unlimited capacity). For the formation of long term memory, there should be change in the structure of neurons as well as dissipation of information from hippocampus to other parts of brain mainly cerebral cortex.

It has been proved scientifically that sleep is important for memory as it’s the period during which our memory is consolidated.Generally, an average of 8 hours of sleep is good for the brain. Taking nap in between your studies helps in memorizing the contents. For example, taking nap every half an hour or 15 minutes after a study period of 2 or 3 hours helps you memorize better than studying continuously for an entire day.

So, managing your sleep along with your study might make you smart.