It turns out; we do need to take one thing at a time, or as New Kids on the Block suggests, step by step oh baby. Our brain utilises this method whether we realise it or not.
Unless you’re a brilliant multi-tasker who can manage a slew of demands simultaneously, then great for you. But even if you can do this, parts of your brain are taking a little nap to get ready for the next wave of requests put upon it.
We know that while we sleep our brain is active in what’s called Slow Wave sleep which decreases as we age. Babies sleep 18 hours a day, and most of that is in Slow Wave sleep. Eventually, we progress into nights full of alternating periods of this more relaxed state to active REM, when heart rate increases, we dream, our temperature increases and men stand at attention.
Researches at Stanford have found that the same waves of activity and non-activity are present while we’re wide awake. A layman would expect that when our eyes are open, we’re lucid and the brain is at full throttle. Not so much.
“When the neurons have cycled into the more active, or “on,” state they are better at responding to the world. The neurons also spend more time in the on state when paying attention to a task. This finding suggests processes that regulate brain activity in sleep might also play a role in attention.” Said Amy Adams of Stanford News. No the actress Amy Adams does not write about neurological research on the side.
So why do our brains do this? Possibly as a form of constant maintenance.
“There is a metabolic cost associated with neurons firing all the time,” said Kwabena Boahen, a professor of bioengineering and electrical engineering at Stanford and a senior author on the paper. “The brain uses a lot of energy and maybe giving the cells a chance to do the energetic equivalent of sitting down allows the brain to save energy. Also, when neurons are very active, they generate cellular byproducts that can damage the cells. Engel pointed out that the low-activity states could allow time to clear out this neuronal waste.”
There you have it, so when we space out in the middle of a sentence or forget why we were going up the stairs. It’s because our brain is clearing up the party from last night. Thanks, brain.
Loaded staff writer Danielle De La Bastide has lived all over the planet and written for BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog as well as print publications throughout the Caribbean.