Do our brains work while we are asleep?

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A part of our brains works always, whether we are asleep or not. If that part stops working then sleep must become death. This is a part of the brain about which we never feel or know anything directly ourselves. It is the lowest part of the brain, and has nothing to do with thinking or consciousness, but it controls the beating of the heart, and gives orders to the muscles by which we breathe. The highest part of the brain that has to do with thinking is also probably never wholly asleep, except perhaps in babies and small children. But most of it should be asleep, which means at rest, when we are asleep. The deeper our sleep is, the more valuable it is, and the small is the part of our brains which is still at work.

Dreams and nightmares prove that our brains work while we sleep. But quite apart from them too, we can prove in many ways that it works while we are asleep. For instance, a man may go to bed trying to solve some problem in science, or to invent a new combination of the pieces in chess, or to find out how a crime was committed, or to write a tune of a song, or to do thousand other things of that kind – and in the morning he may wake and find that during the night, while he was asleep the brain has dome everything he wanted. A great poet once composed a poem in his sleep, and wrote it out the next morning. Sometimes, when the brain has done its work it will wake the man up, and if one is to be awakened at night, that is the nicest way in which it can happen. The French have a very good proverb which expresses this very well. It is, La nuit porte conseil – the night brings counsel.

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