This week we explore eight unusual facts you may or may not know about your brain. Do you know other unusual facts not on the list below? Please let us know by including them in the comment section below.
1. No rest for your brain
Believe it or not, although rest is quite important for normal cognitive function, your brain does not slow down when you go to sleep. On the contrary, it actually becomes quite active. The science of sleep is still being explored but one popular theory is that the brain does its most important work during sleep – routing and organizing all of the important information from the day into memory. In fact, our brain is so active at night it secretes hormones that immobilize our bodies during sleep so that we don’t injure ourselves while attempting to act upon any of the ideas going on in our head while we sleep!
2. Your brain is a little powerhouse
Our brains are full of neurons, a common estimate is that each of us has about 100 billion of them. Whenever we conjure up a thought it is because electrical signals are transmitted between these neurons along our neural pathways. As long as we are alive, this process never stops. Each neuron in your body generates a small amount of electricity. Multiply that energy by 100 billion and you will have enough electricity to power a small light bulb. The next time you see a light bulb used as a metaphor for a new idea you will now know why.
3. Your brain is no Prius™
Although the brain makes up only a small part of your body, it can burn up to one-fifth of the calories you use in a day. This calorie expenditure is primarily used for cell-health maintenance and to fuel the electrical impulses that neurons use to communicate with each other. This could be why a long day at the office can sometimes make us feel as though we just ran a marathon.
4. Yawning Facts: Brain overheating causes you to yawn
Normally, we associate yawns to boredom or fatigue. Scientists once thought that yawning was an evolutionary way to oxygenate our blood. When you yawn it expands your pharynx and larynx, allowing large amounts of air to pass into your lungs. Research out of University at Albany now suggests that people yawn to cool off their brains. The theory is that sleep deprivation overheats the brain, and yawning is actually our way to dissipate this heat.
5. Your brain is mostly liquid
Your brain tissue is soft and jellylike. Back in our article Increase Brain Power with Food we let you know that your brain is about 80% water. Along with consisting of mostly water, your brain is constantly being lubricated by your circulatory system. It is estimated that about a gallon of blood moves through the brain every four minutes. The brain is also the fattiest organ we have in our body.
6. Your brain is cross-wired
Your brain is divided into two sides, but for reasons science doesn’t completely understand, the left hemisphere of your brain controls the right side of your body, while the right hemisphere of your brain controls the left side of your body. As discussed in our past post 9 Differences Between the Male and Female Brain, many men are sharply left-brain dominant, while women tend to be more evenly balanced between left and right-brain processing. Women are therefore thought to be slightly more intuitive and better communicators then men, whereas men tend to be more task-oriented.
7. Your brain feels no pain
Although what you sense and feel is processed in your brain, the brain itself cannot feel pain. This is because your brain lacks pain receptors. Headaches come from pain receptors in your head, hence the name headaches and not brainaches. This fact also assists neurosurgeons perform complicated brain surgeries while a patient is still awake.
8. You are constantly changing the structure of your brain
In our post 7 Myths About the Human Brain we stated that our brains change in various areas, but the wrinkles we gain as our brain develop remain the same until the day we die. A few of you wrote in that in some cases wrinkles can change. Less contentious is the fact that as we learn new information through cognitive engagement we form new neural pathways and build our cognitive reserve (one of our best defenses against brain decline). Similar to the way your muscle grows stronger and more adept with use, your brain’s structure strengthens every time it is engaged in a meaningful way.