“Neurons that fire together, wire together”
The more you run a particular circuit it your brain, the stronger it becomes. It gels perfectly with the old saying ” practice makes perfect”. The more you practice a particular skill, the more you become to mastering it.
Researchers have found the other part of the truth- in order to learn something new, what’s more important than practicing is to unlearn the old neural connections. This is referred as “synaptic pruning”.
Just consider your brain to be a garden, where instead of flowers you grow synaptic connections. Neurotransmitters like dopamine travel across these connections. Let me introduce you to the gardener of this garden – “the Glial cells”. The main functions of these cells include speeding up signals between synaptic connections, pulling out weeds, killing pests and eliminating waste.
The pruning gardener of your brain are microglial cells. Now the question is how do they know which connections to prune?
Researchers are still working on this mystery. What they know as of now is that synaptic connections that get used less often are marked by a special protein called C1q. These marker proteins are detected by microglial cells are destroyed thereafter. Simply put, the gardener cells delete the less used connections.
This explains how the brain works to remove old connection and free up space for new and better synaptic connections. It assists in building new and stronger connections.
Here’s how sleep helps in building better connections:
Have you ever realised that your minds feels blocked after you study all day and you face difficulty in learning during latter hours.
When you try learning the same thing after a good night sleep, you no longer face any difficulty in learning it. It happens because your brains gets clogged of old synaptic connections that are not needed anymore. The brain cells prune these connections while you are sleeping. This also explains how naps assist your cognitive abilities. Even a 10 minutes nap gives time to microglial cells to clear some unused connections and free up space.
In order to get a control of what gets pruned, you need to work on what you pay attention to. So instead of focusing on what keeps holding you back, focus on the opportunities to grow.