This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Your brain can’t catch a break. Long after your major muscles have drifted off to dreamland, the tissue between your ears is still hard at work finding ways to keep you healthy and happy. Wonder what happens in your head while the rest of you relaxes? Check out the contributions your brain makes during those after-dark hours.

It Powers Your Dreams 

When you’re awake, a small structure in the brain called the thalamus relays sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, allowing you to perceive small changes in your environment. It typically goes offline during sleep (that’s why you can tune out the sound of, say, a flushing toilet or barking dog), but during REM sleep, the thalamus reengages, sending images and sounds to your cortex which become part of your dreams. , 

It Relaxes You

Even among people who have vivid dreams at night, it’s rare to sleepwalk or physically move from the bed. That’s partially due to the brain stem, located at the base of the brain, which sends out muscle-relaxing signals that temporarily paralyze the limbs to keep them from engaging during the night.  

It Boosts Memory 

Memories and newly learned skills, like playing the piano, are moved to more permanent regions of the brain while you sleep, making them easier to recall going forward. Whether you’re studying for a test or simply need to remember your to-do list tomorrow, a good night’s sleep will help. 

It Protects Against Illness

Waste products linked to health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease build up in the brain throughout the day. At night, your body produces an increased amount of a clear liquid called cerebrospinal fluid.  This liquid moves through the brain, helping to flush out toxins that could potentially contribute to harmful diseases. 

Even though the brain remains active when you’re asleep, it takes time for it to complete the various tasks that keep you healthy. The brain thrives on a consistent sleep schedule, so aim for the recommended seven to eight hours each night.