Psychedelics Optimize the Brain at Rest

Sleeping must have an essential, universal function if we spend so many of our hours doing it.

Every animal more or less does it, so considering that we all have to disconnect from our environment for several hours points to sleep’s physiological importance. It may appear that we are doing nothing, but we know that sleep is crucial for our cognitive functioning.

The synaptic homeostasis hypothesis (SHY) is an attempt to identify the restoration of synaptic homeostasis as sleep’s universal function. Meaning, after a day of firing signals, the brain and body need to rest for a variety of reasons. This hypothesis doesn’t negate the many ways that sleep serves us, but it puts forth “synaptic homeostasis” as its essential function.

The brain needs a break! Evidence suggests that psychedelics optimize the brain, but new research suggests that they may optimize the brain during synaptic homeostasis, too, or sleep. Our brains are paradoxical; they need a constant environment yet they must adapt to a constantly changing environment.

The plasticity of our brains challenges synaptic homeostasis, but together they keep us balanced. Thus sleep, according to SHY, is just as crucial for the overall functioning of the brain.

The information and activity of the day have the time and space to sink deeper into the brain–quite literally. In turn, it gives the brain some time to decide which synapses are important or not.

The data coming out of psychedelic research points to their ability to encourage neurogenesis, plasticity in the brain, and new connections. We know that psychedelics such as ketamine have shown to help the brain optimize its functioning at its wakeful state but new research out of the University of Helsinki suggests that psychedelics might help the brain optimize synaptic homeostasis, or sleep. “Sleep is a time when there is no demand for learning and neurons can sample most of their inputs in an unbiased manner through off-line spontaneous activity.” But it goes without saying that psychedelics aren’t silver bullets. It takes practice and work such as therapy to strengthen their imprint into the brain. However, the research out of the University of Helsinki highlights the importance of rest for the brain. Furthermore, the synaptic connections that are strengthened during therapy treatments such as ketamine-assisted psychotherapy are consolidated in the brain while the person sleeps. Sleep, in other words, can tell us much more than we previously understood about what’s sinking in and what isn’t.

Their evidence even suggests that sleep might be a useful way to measure how effective a treatment is and to develop novel ones, in general. In the end, psychedelics might not only optimize your brain during waking hours but even at night during its off-hours. Sleep is where the magic happens, and psychedelics might nourish our brains there, too.

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