Much progress has been made in understanding the neural network of the brain, something that does not happen by chance but causally because they generate the nerve circuits that support brain function. It is true that this whole process is genetically programmed, but also it is strongly modulated by external information.
The basic unit of connection in the brain is the contact of one neuron with another, which is characterized by the neural synapse.
The synapse is a space between a neuron and another cell (neuron or not). A very active place where things are going on continuously. Physically, it is a separation, functionally a connection that transfers information from one cell to another.
It is estimated that an adult brain has about 100,000 million neurons, each of which processes its own information, which it then sends to others, for which it also receives news. Each neuron can connect up to 50,000 others, and electrical impulses transmit messages to each other.
With 27 letters of the alphabet and punctuation, you can write an infinite number of novels that do not exist yet. With the 7 musical notes, you can get endless musical pieces. The functional states of the brain can also be combined. In answer to this question is the secret of the great computing power of the brain, making it an organ more complex than the most modern computer.
Neuronal connectivity is the union or synapse created between neurons or brain cells. To more connectivity, a stronger neural network of the brain capable of improving our cognitive processes is configured. The brain is surprised by new images and meanings through the poetic use of language. It is likely that the educated or educated person feels that poetry or music produces altered states of consciousness of great satisfaction.
Factors such as attention or memory are related to these processes. Appropriate habits such as lifelong learning, reading, or mental games are also essential to achieve this.
It is not by chance that the stress of modern life that creates uncertainty, less time for rest, and the cultivation of relationships – essential for affective life – affect serotonin production, thus reducing cognitive capacity by its absence in neural networks. Stress consumes the neurotransmitters of high performance and well-being. The same thing happens with a poor diet that decreases the consumption of tryptophan, which is part of the food and affects the production of serotonin. We live in an age of addiction to recreational drugs, which are harmful chemicals to health and push the network to altered states of consciousness.
I – The Neural Network of the Brain During Deep Sleep Promotes Learning
According to researchers at the Congress of the European Federation of Neuroscience Societies (FENS) held in 2012 in Barcelona, slow electric waves that propagate during the non-awakening phases affect the consolidation of memory.
According to the results presented, the slight neuronal oscillations that influence learning are more pronounced during the first years of life. The slow electrical activity of the brain during deep sleep promotes learning.
The team observed slow, rhythmic electric wave movements in the cerebral cortex during deep sleep and a correlation between slow-wave sleep and memory consolidation.
Electroencephalographs have also shown how external neural networks interact and are modulated by more internal brain areas, such as the thalamus, during the non-awakening period. The cerebral cortex shows great connectivity with other deeper brain structures.
The scientists’ conclusions reveal the success in consolidating the information acquired during the day to the communication between the neurons and the number of connections between them during the phases of deep sleep.
The slight oscillations are more marked during the first years of development of the child, especially in children from 5 to 10 years. The peak of synaptic density seems to be before puberty. Children explore space and learn constantly. During adolescence, there seems to be an optimization to reduce the number of neural connections in order to develop the same brain skills and functions.
According to a study conducted by scientists from the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Medical Center and the University of Zurich, published in Nature Neuroscience in March 2013, children’s brains transform more efficiently, material acquired unconsciously from implicit knowledge, than the adult brain.
Previous research in adults has already shown that sleep after learning promotes the long-term storage of learned material. As for the children, they sleep more and more deeply and have to integrate large amounts of information each day.
In the research, scientists examined the ability to form explicit knowledge, through an implicit motor task, in children ages 8-11 and young adults.
After a night’s sleep or an awakened day, the participants’ memory was analyzed. After sleeping for one night, both groups could recall more items from a row of numbers than those who remained awake, but the children resulted being much better at this job than younger adults.
According to the researchers, in children, much more explicit, effective knowledge is generated during sleep from an implicit task previously learned. Explicit knowledge training appears to be a very specific sleep capacity during childhood since children are normally asleep as much or less than adults when it comes to other types of memory tasks.
III – How Does Sleep Promote Learning?
A team of Chinese and American researchers from New York University and Beijing University, whose work was published in June 2014 in the journal Science, identified the mechanism by which having good hours of sleep improves learning and memory.
For their study, the researchers began by learning new acrobatics for their laboratory mice: running on a rod in rotation and acceleration. Thanks to genetic modification, the researchers were able to observe life, through their microscopes, the evolution of the shape of the neurons of the motor cortex of mice.
They then observed an increase in the number of dendritic spines forming on the neurons. The dendritic spines are protuberances on the arms of the neurons, which connect to neighboring neurons and facilitate the passage of information between them. In other words, with the learning of the new task, the number of connections between neurons has increased.
The researchers then wanted to check if sleep played a role in this formation of dendritic spines. They separated the mice into two groups. One was able to get a good rest of 7 hours of sleep, while the other was kept awake by nice shakes.
As a result, the number of dendritic spines and neuronal connections was lower for the sleep deprivation group.
In another experiment, the researchers tested whether a later sleep, allowed after the 7 hours the mice were kept awake, could compensate for lack of sleep. The answer is no: the number of connections remained lower than for the mice that slept within 7 hours of learning.
The latter was also more successful than the others when the researchers led them to redo their balancing act on the rotating rods.
These results suggest that sleep contributes to the formation and maintenance of new connections between neurons as well as the consolidation of memorization and learning of exercises.
By what mechanism does sleep act on the formation of these connections? To understand it, one must return to sleep in oneself. It breaks down into two major periods: REM sleep, characterized by rapid eye movements, and deep sleep. During the latter, the most restorative, the brain is crossed by slow waves. But, contrary to what it seems, this sleep is not easy for neurons. They are reactivated and then replay what they learned during the day.
However, when researchers disrupted this deep sleep after learning, the number of neuronal connections in mouse brains decreased. This shows that deep sleep, during which neurons repeat what they have learned, improves memorization.
Children are better at converting implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge after sleep. When sleep was implicitly trained on a motor sequence, children showed greater gains in knowing explicit sequences after sleep than adults. This greater explicit knowledge in children was related to their slower wave slow activity and stronger activation of the hippocampus during the explicit recovery of knowledge.
IV – Lack of Sleep Increases Sensitivity to Pain
A team of researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, whose study was published in Nature Medicine in May 2017, suggests that people with chronic pain can get relief by sleeping more or, if unable to do, taking drugs that stimulate arousal, such as caffeine.
Both approaches performed better than standard analgesics in this mouse study. In the mouse, the researchers measured the effects of a moderate lack of sleep for a few days or an acute lack of sensitivity to painful and non-painful stimuli (such as a startling sound). The lack of sleep was caused by a rich and stimulating environment without stress.
They then tested standard pain medications, such as ibuprofen and morphine, as well as wakefulness agents, such as caffeine and modafinil. Their results reveal an unexpected role of the level of vigilance on the sensitivity to pain.
Five consecutive days of moderate sleep deprivation exacerbated sensitivity to pain over time.
The answer was specific to the pain and was not due to a general state of hyperexcitability. Common painkillers such as ibuprofen did not block the hypersensitivity to pain induced by lack of sleep. Even morphine had lost most of its effectiveness.
These observations suggest, the researchers note, that people who use these medications may need to increase their dose to compensate for the lost efficacy due to lack of sleep, thus increasing their risk of side effects.
In contrast, caffeine and modafinil (Provigil), a drug used to promote arousal, blocked hypersensitivity to pain caused by sleep loss. While mice not lacking sleep, they had no analgesic properties.
Such medications may help break the cycle of chronic pain, in which pain disrupts sleep, which promotes pain, further disrupting sleep. Caffeine and modafinil stimulate brain dopamine circuits, which could be the mechanism behind this effect.
V – Train Working Memory Improves Children’s Cerebral Connectivity
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Oxford University (UK) published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2015, training can not only improve the cognitive performance of a group of ‘children between 8 and 11 years of age but also significantly change the way their brain connects.
In the experiment, initially, 33 children participated, although, for various reasons, only 27 completed the full study. All of them underwent magnetoencephalographic tests before and after. Only one subgroup of participants performed the cognitive training (adaptive group) while the other subgroup did not (cognitive group). In addition, various tests were used to evaluate short-term memory and working memory.
Cognitive training consisted of 20 to 25 sessions of approximately 30-45 minutes, spread over a month or a month and a half at most. The exercises were done by computer, working on various aspects of the working memory, and the degree of difficulty was adjusted in each case according to the progress that the participants showed according to their performance.
The results showed that cognitive training, even as short as a few weeks, can have a significant impact on test performance and the brain of children. More specifically, it was found that there were changes in the connectivity model in the frontoparietal networks, in the lateral occipital cortex, and in the lower temporal cortex. In addition, the training group improved the measurements of the working memory, and interestingly, these improvements were related to an increase in the strength of the neuronal connectivity at rest.
The present finding is one more in favor of the benefits of brain training and adds some important developments demonstrating how it unfolds at the neuronal level.
VI – Beneficial Effect of Music Education on Children’s Brains
According to a study by researchers at Federico Gómez Children’s Hospital in Mexico, published on the website of the Society of Radiologists of North America in June 2017, music education increases brain connectivity in children. It could be beneficial in the treatment of autism and ADHD.
Musical practice can contribute to brain development in very young children because it optimizes the creation and implementation of the neural network of the brain and stimulates especially those located in the frontal regions, involved in complex cognitive processes.
The team observed 23 children between the ages of 5 and 6, right-handed and without sensory, perceptual, or neurological disorders, who had been trained for nine months. No child had previously received any other arts education. They were evaluated before and after their participation by an advanced MRI technique that can detect microstructural changes in the white matter of the brain. At the end of the nine-month period, neuroimaging showed an optimization of connectivity and communication between different regions of the brain, particularly in the frontal cortex.
Following nine months of music education, neuroimaging shows nerve fiber growth and new connections in areas associated with ASD and ADHD.
When a child goes to music school, his brain is called upon to perform several tasks. Listening, cognitive and motor functions, emotion, and social skills are mobilized at the same time. A complex circuit of different regions in the brain is solicited. It, therefore, requires the creation of more connections between the two hemispheres, which may explain the results of the study.
These results are proof in pictures that musical practice contributes to the creation of new neural networks and the stimulation and optimization of existing connections. Their therapeutic scope could notably make it possible to target the management of certain pathologies better and in particular, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder), one of whose markers are, according to some researchers, low neural connectivity in the frontal cortex.
VII – Reading Stimulates Neurons
According to a study conducted by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, published in the journal Brain Connectivity in January 2014, reading a novel helps to strengthen connectivity between neurons in certain areas of the brain. An intellectual gymnastic whose benefits are visible even days after the stop or the end of the book.
Their work reveals that the most diligent readers would have more connections between different regions of the brain, increasing their activity.
The researchers used 21 young adults, who had MRIs for five consecutive days, to assess the connectivity rate of their brains. Over the next 19 days, participants reiterated the same review after reading about 30 pages of Robert Harris’s Pompei novel every day. Then, after finishing the novel, they came back a third time for an MRI for five days.
At the end of the experiment, the scientists noticed a change in the MRI results during the reading period and during the five days that followed. Two regions of the brain have been particularly stimulated: the left temporal cortex, associated with the understanding of the tongue, and the central groove of the brain, dedicated to bodily sensations. These two areas are particularly busy because they come into play when the reader immerses himself in the story.