There’s an old saying that goes “there’s strength in numbers”. Well, this is also true for neurons (nerve cells). The more neural activity there is in one location the stronger the neural circuit connections are.
This proves the old truism “practice makes perfect”.The more you play the piano, the more you use a new language or practice performing magic the stronger your neural connections get.There are hundreds of examples. Here are the details from Fast Company:
Learning isn’t just about building neural connections and strengthening them.
People have focused on this for years but studies have proven otherwise. What’s more important is our ability of removing old connections which is called “synaptic pruning”.Let’s look at what that means:
Your brain is like a garden.
Imagine that your brain is a garden, of course instead of growing flowers and vegetables you grow synaptical connections between neurons.These connections enable dopamine and serotonin (colloquially known as hormones that cause happiness, they do in fact have other purposes) and other similar neurotransmitters (neurohormones) to reach their destinations.
“Glial cells (neuroprotection cells)” are the gardeners of your brain
They increase the speed of signals between specific neurons.Other glial cells deal with waste, they dispose of harmful substances, they brush away dead leaves.The gardeners responsible of “pruning” your brain cells are called “microglial cells”. They prune synaptic (nervous) connections.
Which brings us to the big question, “how do they know which ones to prune?”
Researchers have slowly started to unravel the mystery but there’s one thing they do know for sure and that’s that nervous connections are marked by a protein called “C1q”.When our “microglial cells” responsible of pruning see this mark they merge with the protein and destroy the nervous connection.
That’s how our brain creates new and stronger connections; by making physical room so we can learn more.
Why is sleep important?
Have you ever felt like your brain was just crammed full of information?Especially when starting a new job or in the depths of an important project?It’s probably because you aren’t sleeping enough, plus you’re constantly storing new information. In other words you brain is actually “crammed full”.
When you learn something new your brain constructs new connections, but these connections are weak, they’re almost like a sketch.
Your brain needs to prune certain connections so that it can construct more fluent and productive neural paths. The brain does exactly this while we’re sleeping.
Have you ever felt that you could think clearer and faster after a good night’s sleep?
Well, that’s because your brain has been pruning and cleaning all night.Your brain is tidier and more spacious so you can learn more.Trying to learn without proper sleep is like trying to cut through a dense forest with a spoon, tiresome, slow and unproductive.
That’s why taking a nap is very important for your cognitive skills.
Taking a 10-20 minute nap gives enough time for the guardians in your brain to work and clear out space for you to learn new things.Thinking with a well rested brain is like driving home on an empty freeway during rush-hour.The roads are completely empty, no time waste and no unnecessary stops.
Realize the knowledge you have.
While all this pruning and gardening is going on in your brain some of it is up to you too.Neural connections that end up in the “re-cycling bin” are the ones “you” don’t use.The neural connections you use are watered and taken care of, so pay attention to what you think about.