Productivity

Curating “the museum of your life”: What your brain does while you sleep and how you can direct it

Martin Kovacs /

Getting enough sleep each night will go a long way to ensuring you remain at the top of your game and will provide opportunity for your brain to carry out vital functions.

At Thrive Global, speaker, coach and author Ellen Petry Leanse employed the analogy of “a diligent museum curator” in explaining what happens while we sleep, with the curator taking care of “the museum of your life”.

Leanse explained that while we sleep, the brain “brushes away inactive synaptic connections – old information you no longer actively use”.

“This allows it to store and create pathways to incoming information, mapping new inputs and experiences to established and important older ones,” she said.

“This, in a word, is how we learn. And sleeping is the time when we ‘forget’ the stuff that doesn’t matter so we’re sure to retain the stuff that does.”

The curator will rest during the day before going to work at night, with Leanse observing the work it has previously undertaken helps us function in our everyday lives.

“Because of this curator, your brain can make the vast majority of its decisions and interpretations without you intentionally having to ‘think,’” she said.

“Its archives are so well organised we can call upon them instantly.

“What’s more, the most popular collections, whatever they might be, are the most easily available. That curator knows what you’re thinking about and what you pay attention to – and it helps those things be the first thing your brain sees, so to speak, when it interprets what’s going on.”

Directing your thoughts prior to sleeping

Leanse observed “we can help our brains strengthen things we want to develop and grow by intentionally activating them: calling them to mind”.

She pointed to the potential to direct and prioritise thoughts prior to sleep, focusing on what you want to nurture and seeking to eliminate negativity.

“Take a few minutes before bedtime to think about the things that matter most to you,” she said.

“Reflect on the day’s important moments. Imagine your dreams and goals. Envision what’s important in the coming days. Direct attention to things you’re grateful for.

“It’s almost like you’re having a 1:1 with that curator to help it do its job better. You’re helping it prioritise what matters to you so it can take that into consideration when the night shift begins.”

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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