Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine have discovered a cluster of cells in the fruit-fly brain that controls sleep. By manipulating those cells, scientists were able to establish long-term memories in fruit flies by controlling their sleep habits.
Like all animals, fruit flies included, our brains are engaged in processing information every moment we’re awake. A key component of this process are the synapses in our brains. Synapses create communication pathways in the brain that enable us to retain information.
The theory of synaptic homeostasis suggests that sleep functions like a filter, to help us weed out and relax the synapses we develop over the course of a day, in order to start fresh the next day. Our brains use sleep as the time to determine what information can be discarded, and what is useful enough that it should be stored as longer-term memories.